One warm summer afternoon a tiny girl reached on tiptoes to ring a doorbell. After a moment the door swung wide and there stood a beautiful twenty-year-old princess with golden hair and large, expressive blue eyes. To a small child she might have been Cinderella. But this princess was taller, more regal than any pictures of the cinder girl. And she was as real as her name—Sally Peterson.
“Elizabeth!” Sally smiled down at her little visitor. “How wonderful to see you! Come in! Come in!”
“I just brought you this,” the little girl beamed, as she thrust forward a letter, then turned happily and walked down the stairs murmuring, “Now that wasn’t one bit scary.”
It wasn’t scary. And it shouldn’t have been. Sally was her special friend. As Junior Sunday School chorister, Sally had taught songs to Elizabeth and many others like her over a period of five years. But now she wasn’t “Sally our song-leader”; she was Miss Utah of 1972. And one small girl expressed the feelings of many:
I love you
Sometime later while interviewing Sally for a local newspaper, I asked her to tell me about any special “happenings” since she became Miss Utah. Sally told me of Elizabeth and of other children who had come to see her.
“I love them,” she said warmly. “In fact, teaching them to sing is my first love. No one can know what I’ve learned from those children. Such eyes! Such voices! It’s a kind of musical experience that can’t be explained—only felt.”
Sally has shared other musical experiences with many who, like Elizabeth, have loved her. When she was seven, she sat with her mother at the piano and received her first formal lesson. Later she became a student of concert pianist Gladys Gladstone. When she was eleven, she was guest soloist with the Utah Symphony Orchestra and has since appeared with them on three other occasions. She has been first-place winner in the Utah State Fair music competition, was awarded the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce trophy, “Musician of Great Promise,” and in 1969 was named “Outstanding Teenager in the State of Utah.” Sally was also honored in Washington, D.C., where as a Girls Nation representative, she played at the vesper assembly; in St. Louis, Missouri, where she won the National Stillman-Kelly award; in Santa Barbara, California, where she enjoyed a summer scholarship to the Music Academy, studied with Jerome Lowenthall, and won the concerto audition and an opportunity to play with the Festival Symphony Orchestra. Again last January in Midland, Texas, “that Mormon girl from Utah” was honored when she won the National Young Artists Piano Competition.
In September Sally represented Utah in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she performed with orchestra Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
“I have always tried to practice on the piano three hours a day,” says Sally, then adds, eyes twinkling, “I know that seems like a long time to some, but that still leaves 21 hours in each day in which to do something else.”
Sally also water skis, swims, snow skis, rides horses, and plays paddle ball. She is a model, a seamstress, and an amateur painter and photographer. A senior at the University of Utah, she is an honor student and a member of several local and national collegiate organizations. Says Sally, “I’ve noticed that some people feel that the world is a sad and ugly place. Others whose examples I’ve tried to follow discover in it so much joy and beauty that it’s hard to find time for it all.”
In May, prior to her entering the Miss Utah Pageant contest, Sally found time to enjoy a two-week foreign language tour in Mexico.
There an older Mexican friend, charmed by the stunning blonde with an Acapulco tan, exclaimed, “You seem so happy all of the time. How can I be as happy as you?” Sally answered him without hesitation, “I am happy because I know that I am a daughter of God. And you are my brother. You can be happy too if you will become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Wherever she went in Mexico, Sally looked for a piano. At one place she received permission to use one that was surrounded by local Mexicans. She played for them. Later Sally reminisced, “Although we spoke a different language, they heard just as I heard. They loved the music just as I loved it. We were really communicating. That’s what is meant by music being a universal language.”
“Sometimes when I’m playing the piano,” Sally said softly, “I feel closer to the Lord than at any other time. I feel literally lifted up, inspired. Oh, everyone should develop a talent! Once I heard a girl complain, ‘But that takes eight or ten years. I’ll be 32 by then!’ True. It may take ten years. And she would be 32 by then. But she could still enjoy 40 or more years of sharing her talents with others. If she decides not to develop her talents, she will not have the blessing. And in ten years she will be 32 anyway.”
Three days after Sally arrived home from Mexico, she was crowned Miss Utah. A short time later a special letter for Sally came in the mail. It was one she had written to herself several weeks before as part of an assignment in an M Men and Gleaner class.
“Write something which will help you later in your life,” the teacher said. “And then, when the time is right, I’ll mail you your letter.” Appropriately, the letter came:
Hi Sally …
By the time you receive this letter, you will have been to Mexico and probably will have made some important decisions.
Just remember, the Lord loves you and he has a very special responsibility for you in the near future. Strive each and every day to draw close unto him and to let him guide and influence your life.
You have a very special talent that you should work at diligently. If you do, you will bring joy and happiness to those around you and will please the Lord.
Always keep your ideals high and be the kind of girl that a wonderful young Latter-day Saint man will love and cherish as his wife.
Honor your parents, and though there may be problems sometimes, remember to love and understand them and to be as patient and tolerant as you would want them to be with you.
People are aware of your example. Remember always to walk in the ways of the Lord and he will bless you beyond measure. You will have many opportunities to be in the public eye, so do nothing that would be contrary to Christ’s example.
Work hard. Use discipline. Have courage, faith, and pray always.
As you love yourself, you will love others.
“Sally,” I exclaimed when she shared the letter with me, “you were positively prophetic when you wrote that!”
“Not really,” she replied thoughtfully. “It is the kind of letter any young Latter-day Saint person could have written to himself.
“Every one of us has important decisions to make,” she continued, “little decisions like whether to attend a bull fight or a Sabbath day meeting and larger ones like whether or not to attend college, go on a mission, marry in the temple—the list goes on …
“Each of us has special responsibilities, talents—and parents to love and to honor.
“Others look to our example. Each of us is ‘that Mormon girl or boy’ from someplace or other. Wherever we go, we represent ourselves, our parents, and the Lord.
“And each one is preparing himself (or herself) to be the eternal companion of someone special who is also preparing. Then when both are ready, we will find one another.
“But for right now, each of us has 24 hours every day in which to work, pray, practice discipline, and cause the wonderful experiences of life to happen.”
At the close of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Sally Peterson was named Miss Congeniality, a title valued second only to that of Miss America.
The Award was made after the 50 contestants had voted to select the girl who, throughout the exciting and sometimes exhausting week, had been most friendly, appreciative, genuine, cheerful. It is an honor which recognizes inward as well as outward beauty.
As Miss Congeniality, Sally received a $1,000 scholarship. She also won a $1,000 Grand Music Award for her performance with orchestra of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1.