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Miss USA winner from county dies

Butler native and 1971 Miss USA Michele Marlene McDonald-Boeke died Thursday. She was 67.

Pennsylvania's first and only Miss USA pageant winner, a Butler County native, died Thursday at the age of 67, according to the director of the state's Miss USA.

Michele Marlene McDonald-Boeke was a lifelong Butler resident and in 1971 she the Miss USA pageant during her senior year at Knoch High School.

In June 2018, McDonald-Boeke underwent a life-saving double lung transplant at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. She dealt with asthma for years, according to the state director, Randy Sanders, but she had also developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with associated pulmonary hypertension.

“She was the popular girl in high school but she wasn't snobbish about it,” said Halstead Karen, who graduated with McDonald-Boeke the same year. “And she just fit in with everyone. She was such a nice person.”

According to a social media remembrance by Sanders, McDonald-Boeke was encouraged to enter the Miss Pennsylvania USA competition by her mother.

She won the title in May 1971, just weeks before her graduation. She missed her prom to represent her state in the Miss USA Pageant in Miami Beach, Fla.

She was the first high school student to be named Miss USA.

After winning, McDonald-Boeke and her parents visited President Richard Nixon in his summer home in Biscayne, Fla, according to Sanders.

Before competing at Miss USA, McDonald-Boeke had never traveled out of Pennsylvania or flown in an airplane.

She returned to Butler the weekend after winning the title for her high school graduation, arriving from the airport in a motorcade to thousands of people and dignitaries from her hometown greeting her.

Leading up to McDonald-Boeke's lung transplant, she had severe problems breathing and she was only expected to live two to three years, according to reports.

Bill Wilson, who graduated a few years after McDonald-Boeke, said that he didn't know her very well but he remembers watching her as Miss Pennsylvania USA on television.

“So we went down the street to her to see what was going on,” Wilson said, who recalled living near McDonald-Boeke and visiting her at the time near the country club by Airport Road. “Everyone came down the block in their cars, honking horns. I'll always remember that.”