Salem business owner named Mrs. Oregon America

Salem business owner Ellen Yin stood in a glittery lavender gown on the stage of the Elsinore Theater on May 4, holding hands with her pageant contestants.

“Without further ado, your new Mrs. Oregon America 2024 is: Mrs. Marion County Ellen Yin,” the announcer said, to cheers from the audience, as “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield played over the speakers.

Yin broke into a broad smile, and accepted a sash, bouquet and sparkling crown from the other women on stage. 

She is the first Asian American to hold the title in nearly 30 years, and will be representing the state in the national Mrs. America Pageant in Las Vegas this August. It’s the country’s longest running beauty pageant for married women, originally founded in 1938, and revived in 1977. It’s not connected to the Miss America organization.  

“I am very proud,” Yin said. “I’m also a first generation American. She immigrated from China to Corvallis when she was three years old. 

“I’m so proud of having grown up in a multicultural household, and I think for me it’s an honor to showcase that pageantry is modernizing and that there are so many accomplished and worthy individuals who can represent a state,” she said.

Yin recalled feeling totally calm during her coronation. She’d had no expectations that she would win, and all of the pre-show nervousness had faded away by the time she first stepped under the stage lights.

“It was just such an honor,” she said. “I didn’t have any of these external pressures of feeling like I had to perform in a certain way. For me, the process was the ends, it wasn’t like a means to an ends.” 

Yin, founder and host of the weekly Cubicle to CEO podcast which interviews business owners, focuses her life’s work on educating women entrepreneurs on business ownership, networking and finance.

She got her start freelancing social media management for businesses, then grew that into an agency before making the transition to business education. She’s an event speaker, and also teaches online courses, which she said have been used by around 14,000 small businesses. Yin is also a board member of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s charitable arm, The McLaran Foundation.

She turned 30 this month, and though she had grown up watching pageants on TV with her sisters and loves  the movie “Miss Congeniality,” she’d never competed in one herself.

She was encouraged by her friends in the Salem business community, and saw how women in pageants used their positions to give back to the community. They also came from diverse life experiences with work, parenthood, mental health and community.

Always looking to step out of her comfort zone, Yin decided to give it a shot.

“It was kind of a bucket list item, and I also just wanted to meet women from all walks of life around the state,” she said. 

She was selected as the delegate for Marion County in the fall, and has spent the last several months doing volunteer work throughout the area, including being an emcee at the Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon.

Ahead of the May pageant, Yin had to learn to be confident on stage and how to walk with poise. Half of the points in the competition came from a pre-show round table interview. Judges asked Yin about her work with women entrepreneurs, her podcast and what causes she would support if given the platform.

“In a way, it’s not that different from interviewing for a job,” she said.

The competition included an opening group dance, a swimsuit portion, and an evening gown portion where contestants answered a question on-stage. 

Though calm when crowned, Yin said it was exciting to feel rewarded for hard work.

“Being able to showcase that there are so many different types of women who can succeed in pageantry is inspiring to me to witness, and I hope is inspiring to others to encourage them to participate,” she said.

For the next few months, Yin will be volunteering at Salem events, including presenting some of the Crystal Apple Awards to local teachers at the May 22 ceremony, and being a part of Keizer’s Blooming Iris Parade.

Yin hopes to use her platform as Mrs. Oregon America to reach more women who are looking for resources or guidance to start a business. She said anyone interested is welcome to email her at [email protected].

“I think there are so many women who have incredible potential to monetize their existing passions and their skill sets through some sort of business endeavor,” she said. 

She also feels that Oregon has too few women-focused business events, and during her reign wants to create a “Shark Tank”-like business pitch competition for women throughout the state. 

To anyone who’s considering trying out pageants, Yin said to look at the diversity of the women on stage.

“If there isn’t anyone that you feel represents you, that’s more the reason to join and really be part of that changing face of who can be in a leadership position,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, yes pageantry is its own kind of niche community, but I don’t see it as really any different than any other leadership role that you could be part of. It’s just the vehicle in which you can make the change.”

Salem business owner Ellen Yin on May 4 after being crowned Mrs. Oregon America (Courtesy/ Mathieu Lewis-Rolland)

CORRECTION: At the time of the interview, Yin and the pageant director had believed Ellen Yin was the first Asian American contestant to win the title of Mrs. Oregon in the pageant’s history. On May 20, she informed Salem Reporter that the pageant found records showing a winner of Korean descent in the 1990s. The story has been corrected accordingly. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.