From Beauty-pageant Winner to Middlesex C.C. Graduate

January 6, 2019 GMT

Two years ago, Frances DeSalvio, a former Miss New Jersey turned empty-nester, was looking to fulfill a dream. She hopped into her little red Mini Cooper and headed to the Middlesex Community College admissions office, hoping it wasn’t too late.

Last May, DeSalvio graduated with an Associate degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences, in the process checking off a long-coveted accomplishment: earning a college degree.

“I feel very much complete, much more of a whole person than I was before, and I have Middlesex to thank for that,” said DeSalvio, now a Lexington resident. “Having an education, any kind of education -- a trade, a skill, a course of study -- completes a person in a certain way.”


DeSalvio’s path to college was not traditional. Her education was detoured by the bright lights and excitement of Atlantic City, N.J., at its peak. She enjoyed a whirlwind career as a beauty-pageant winner and model, and then decades as a doting mom.

In the summer of 1978, as the first casinos were opening in Atlantic City, DeSalvio (then Francine Knapp), had graduated from high school but was unsure of her future.

She landed a job with Resorts International, the first casino on the East Coast, working as a hostess and performing in reviews and shows. In 1981, DeSalvio was crowned Miss Atlantic City. In December 1984, she beat out 93 other contestants to become Miss New Jersey 1985.

That fall, she headed to Asia for a six-week tour of Taiwan, Tokyo and Bangkok with Catalina swimwear. When she returned home, DeSalvio received a phone call from a casino executive asking her out on a blind date. Six weeks later, Francine Knapp and Bob DeSalvio were engaged. They married in September 1986 and had four children.

Four years ago, her husband took a job as president of the Wynn Boston Harbor Casino (now the Encore Boston Harbor, under construction in Everett), and the couple moved to Lexington.

With her children grown, DeSalvio had the time and resources to focus on her education. After taking a couple of summer courses at MCC, she was feeling comfortable and confident enough to sign up for five classes in fall 2016.

“Then I had a meltdown.” All the technology her professors were utilizing in class was too much. DeSalvio was ready to drop out. But her English professor, Louisa Saladino-Kuhl, wouldn’t hear of it.

“She told me, ‘As long as you put in the work, I’ll help you with the technology,’ and she did.”

This fall, DeSalvio headed to Cambridge College in Boston to continue her education and study Psychology.


“My husband recently asked me, ‘What is going on here? I’m 62, you’re 58, I’m getting ready to finish. Are you going to go to work now?’” DeSalvio said. “I told him I’m not really sure. I’m going to listen, be open-minded and always look to the future.”

Registration is open for Wintersession, a condensed, three-week session offered during the break between fall and spring semesters. Wintersession classes run Jan. 2-18, on the Bedford campus or online. Call 1-800-818-3434 to enroll. For further information, or to see the full list of Wintersession course offerings, visit www.middlesex.mass.edu/wintersession or call 800-818-3434.