Orean Lencola Sullivan of Morrilton (Conway County) broke many color barriers in Arkansas and became a nationally known public figure. She won four scholarship pageants from 1977 to 1980 and was the first African American to win those pageants. She was Miss Morrilton in 1977, Miss University of Central Arkansas in 1978, Miss White River in 1979, and Miss Arkansas in 1980. In September 1980, Sullivan competed in the Miss America Pageant and won the preliminary swimsuit competition. Overall, she was the fourth runner-up in the national pageant, the highest placement achieved by an African-American contestant up to that time.
Lencola Sullivan was born on October 29, 1957, to Richard and Macie Sullivan of Morrilton. She was the oldest of five children. Her father was employed by Missouri Pacific Railroad, and her mother was a school teacher. Sullivan graduated from Morrilton High School in 1975 and received a Bachelor of Science in theatre arts and speech with an emphasis in broadcasting in 1980 from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). While at UCA, Sullivan was a member of Alpha Epsilon Rho Broadcasting Society and The Echo newspaper staff, as well as a co-anchor and reporter at KUCA-FM radio. After she graduated from UCA, Sullivan pledged Delta Sigma Theta sorority, an organization predominately made up of college-educated black women.
Sullivan won the Miss Arkansas Pageant the third time she entered. According to the Arkansas Gazette, “She wowed the audience and judges, singing W. C. Handy’s ‘St. Louis Blues,’ and became the first contestant in the history of the pageant to win both the H. S. (Boots) Coleman Talent Award and the Miss Arkansas title.”
Prior to winning the Miss Arkansas Pageant, Sullivan was employed by NBC affiliate KARK Channel 4 in Little Rock and was an assistant to news producer Deborah Mathis. While at Channel 4, Sullivan traveled to Hollywood, California, and took part in a pilot show for television produced by Dick Clark Productions, titled All Kinds of Stuff. The pilot was not put into production.
In recognition of being named Miss Arkansas, Sullivan received an Arkansas Senate citation, an Arkansas House of Representatives citation, and an Arkansas Certificate of Merit from Governor Bill Clinton. Though she graduated from UCA, Sullivan was made an honorary member of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Alumni Association, Inc., and given a life membership certificate. She was also made an honorary citizen of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was selected as an Outstanding Young Woman of America. Sullivan was named in Personalities of the South in 1980, Directory of Distinguished Americans in 1981, and Community Leaders of America in 1982.
In 1981, Sullivan was named the Arkansas Democrat’s Woman of the Year for 1980. When told of her award, she elaborated on why she entered the Miss Arkansas Pageant the third time: “The main reason I fought so hard to win the third time was that I thought that I could do something positive for the state.” On the subject of race, Sullivan stated, “I’m representing Arkansas first of all, but I think that my experience has encouraged more black women to enter pageants.”
Winning the Miss Arkansas Pageant opened many doors for Sullivan, but it was her considerable talent in public speaking and singing that brought her to the attention of leaders of the entertainment industry and corporate world. For example, Sullivan’s close friend Stevie Wonder sang at her father’s funeral in Morrilton in 1989.
In 2002, Sullivan married Roel P. Verseveldt of The Hague in the Netherlands. She and her husband are involved in international business activities. Sullivan has served as a board member of the New York National Speakers Association and was a founding member of the Toastmasters Chapter in The Hague. She has spoken internationally on empowering women, diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, corporate social responsibility, and leadership skills. She is a frequent lecturer at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, Netherlands.
Sullivan had studied piano for seven years and voice and organ for one year. As a vocalist, she performed with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, with Stevie Wonder, with Kool and the Gang, and at both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugural balls, in 1993 and 1997. She has also performed throughout The Netherlands, on Dutch National Television, and at Jazz Club 606 in London. Sullivan has also appeared on several television soap operas, in industrial films, and in many television commercials.
In 2006, Sullivan was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Sullivan resides with her husband in The Hague and has two step-daughters.
For additional information:
Fellone, Frank. “Beauty’s Background Adds Interest to Pageant.” Arkansas Democrat, July 19, 1984, p. 2B.
Lencola Sullivan. http://www.lencolasullivan.com/ (accessed September 2, 2014).
Lencola Sullivan Collection. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.
“Miss Arkansas.” Log Cabin Democrat, July 14, 1980, Cabin Window Editorial.
Paschal, Jan. “Doctor, Miss Arkansas Win as Man, Woman of Year.” Arkansas Democrat, March 29, 1981, pp. 1A, 18A.
Williams, Helaine R. “Six Ready for Hall of Fame.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 22, 2006, pp. 1E, 2E.
University of Central Arkansas