Visitors will know Miss USA is a Missouri gal

Monday, December 27, 2004

FLORISSANT, Mo. -- Stan Musial hasn't had one. Neither has Chuck Berry. In fact, no St. Louisan has been honored with his or her name posted on a state highway sign leading into Missouri. But that's about to change.

Starting next year, motorists driving west over the Poplar, Jefferson Barracks and Interstate 270 bridges into Missouri will be greeted with this: "Welcome to Missouri. Home of Shandi Finnessey Miss USA 2004."

"She's a hottie, and she's a smarty," said state Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake Saint Louis, whose idea it was to put up the signs.

Although these three signs, 10 feet wide by 2 feet tall, will cost the state just $1,200 to build and install, they're still monumental -- if only in a historic sense.

Never before has the Missouri Department of Transportation erected a "Home of" state sign, spokesman Jeff Briggs said.

Finnessey, 26, grew up in Florissant, where her parents have lived for more than 30 years. She was crowned Miss Jackson in 2001. And not only did she go on to win Miss USA, she took second in the Miss Universe pageant, too.

"Missouri has never had someone come up runner-up in the entire universe," Dolan said.

A spokeswoman at the Miss Universe Organization, which also oversees Miss USA, said she knew little about the new signs and couldn't let Finnessey comment until she had more information.

"I think this is good for the state," said her father, Patrick J. Finnessey, 59. "It's good to recognize one of our homegrown Missourians."

Highway officials and lawmakers are planning a formal unveiling of the signs next month, and they'll be up until Finnessey's Miss USA term ends next year, Briggs said.

"It's not a 'Land of Lincoln' official designation," Dolan said. "It's just a 'Hey, she's from Florissant, and we're proud of her."'

Dolan said he did not know whether the state had been approached by anyone else wanting a famous Missourian's name recognized. Other states have used these signs to honor their natives, though, he said.

"Certainly if we had a Medal of Honor winner tomorrow that was in the national news from the war in Iraq, we'd put that name up in a minute," he said. "Right now we have Shandi. She's a nice young lady and a great role model for kids."

In fact, Dolan had just one concern regarding the Finnessey signs: "As good-looking as she is and as smart as she is, I hope those young people don't take them."

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