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If you tune in the Miss America pageant Saturday night and think you see some familiar faces when the camera pans the audience, don’t bother rubbing your eyes.
In the crowd of thousands in Las Vegas will be hundreds of Miss Kentucky’s closest friends – and more than 40 of that group will be from Shelby County.
That’s because Ann-Blair Thornton, 21, a student at Western Kentucky, is wearing the banner of the bluegrass this week, and she’s the granddaughter of Bill and Ann Borders, longtime residents of Shelbyville.
The Borders, as you may know, have a big family – seven children, 18 grandchildren – and every one of them – from ages 10 on up – jumped at the chance to go to Vegas and see Thornton’s big moment.
“There are more than three hundred people here from Kentucky,” said Steve Thornton, Ann-Blair’s father, and by the end of the week, the Borders family will have over forty people.
And you know when the Borders get together they’ve been nicknamed the ‘Bordashians.’ They have sort of a pack mentality.”
Thornton said this family reunion of sorts had been an idea that had been around for a long time, following his daughter’s near misses in the two previous Miss Kentucky pageants. And now it’s happening.
“All the Borders will be sitting together,” he said Thursday. “It’s neat to see such a cohesive family. I have one brother, come from a small family.
“You look around and see so many great examples, and every single one of them is here. You see children and grandchildren who are so supportive.
“The only people more proud than Ann-Blair’s parents are Ann-Blair’s grandparents.”
Said grandmother Ann Borders when Ann-Blair won Miss Kentucky: “She’s my granddaughter and I’m proud of her. She’s a good girl and has been on the right track.”
The Thorntons live in Bowling Green, where Steve Thornton is an attorney, and they have followed their daughter’s pursuit of Miss America for years, and now they are down to their last two days.
On Thursday, they got a huge boost, too.
Ann-Blair Thornton won the Quality of Life Award at the pageant, which goes to an entrant based on her community service and platform, which for Thornton is Alzheimer’s awareness – a personal mission.
“My grandfather Lucian Thornton [who passed away in 2009] was diagnosed with it in 2004, and it’s an issue that’s really close to my heart,” she said last summer. “I hope to be bringing awareness to a whole new level with the Miss Kentucky crown.”
Her efforts certainly impressed the judges. All 53 entrants compete for this honor, and they are whittled down to eight semifinalists and three finalists.
“This really is a huge thing, so she is really awfully excited,” Steve Thornton said. “This is what it’s all about. When Heather French Henry won Miss America, she finished runner-up in this competition.
“Alzheimer’s awareness is her platform. That’s been her journey in her whole process.
She started competing when my father was diagnosed, so they’ve worked hand in hand with one another.”
The title comes with a $6,000 college scholarship.
“I teared up for two reasons,” Thornton said, “one thinking about my father and another for not having to spend six thousand dollars.”
The extra money around the Thornton household could come in handy, too.
It seems that just after being named Miss Kentucky last summer, when Ann-Blair Thornton paid her visit to the Shelbyville Horse Show, she, well, she had a bit of a problem.
“One of two speeding tickets she had gotten since she has been Miss Kentucky was there,” Thornton said. “That will be my lasting memory.
“She has been a better driver since then. I think she forgot she was supposed to stay within the speed limits.”