Miss America makes stop at Richland hospital (w/ gallery)

RICHLAND -- Miss America Teresa Scanlan knelt next to Jack Herrin's hospital bed at Kadlec Regional Medical Center on Friday and chatted with the 3-year-old about the assortment of plush toys collected next to him.

There was a big blue frog, a brown monkey and a knit green ball that Jack delighted in throwing to the end of the bed, showing off for the young woman who must have looked to him like a crowned princess.

"Watch this!" he said and pressed the buttons on his bed to show how it could go up and down.

Then he picked up a cardboard pirate mask and gleefully whacked Scanlan's face.

With the grace and poise one would expect from Miss America, Scanlan laughed it off and continued talking brightly to the little boy, who had been brought into the emergency room the night before with a tonsil problem doctors still were trying to diagnose by about noon Friday.

Minutes later, Jack was visibly disappointed when his new friend had to move on to the next room in Kadlec's pediatric unit.

Scanlan visited the hospital on Friday as an ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals -- a role she has played since being crowned in January at age 17.

Now 18, she's the youngest reigning Miss America since 1937, and the first to visit the Tri-Cities.

Her visit was arranged by local entrepreneur and philanthropist George Garlick, who said he has ties to the Miss America programs in Washington and Nebraska.

"It's once in a lifetime to have this turn of events," he said, referring to a reigning Miss America coming to the Tri-Cities.

Both Scanlan and Garlick are native Nebraskans, although Garlick has called Richland home for many years. Scanlan is the first Miss Nebraska to go on to win the Miss America title.

She told a gathered crowd of Kadlec staff, and the reigning Miss Tri-Cities and Miss Teen Tri-Cities, that at the time she was excited to have made it to the top five.

She described the moment as the fourth runner-up was named, and she thought she would be named third, then second, then first runner-up. She would have been happy with any of those, as she would have gone further in the contest than any Miss Nebraska before her.

"Being 17 and from Nebraska, if anyone had the odds stacked against them, it was me," she said.

But she won the title, and has dedicated her year as Miss America to causes related to children. It's work she said she plans to continue once she turns the crown over to the next Miss America on Jan. 14.

"I think there's no better way to invest in your future than to invest in children," she said. "I think that's what centers like this are doing. ... There's no more important work than the work these hospitals are doing."