By KIMEKO MCCOY
From pageant winner to living on the open waters of Key Biscayne, Miss St. Augustine 1965 has led an interesting life to say the least, and it all started with new bathing suit.
In the summer of 1965, Arnita Halyburton-Rivero, who was the oldest of three sisters at the time, asked her mother for a a new bathing suit.
She was told that a new bathing suit wasn’t in the budget at the time.
Still, the 16-year-old wanted a new bathing suit.
After talking with a friend, she discovered that the Miss St. Augustine — St. Johns County Beauty Contest offered every contestant a new bathing suit.
“It was a one-piece bathing suit,” Arnita said, “and I remember it was turquoise and white.”
So she signed up.
Arnita and her family moved to St. Augustine when Arnita was in the seventh grade. They lived on Orange Street.
Through Arnita’s time at St. Augustine High School, one of her younger sisters, Penny Halyburton, remembers her big sister being very active.
“She’s done a little bit of everything,” Penny said.
Penny says she really looked up to her sister and admired the way she was really involved in school and seemed to have it all — both beauty and brains.
“Once she got interested in something, she mastered it 100 percent,” Penny said.
On top of other involvements, Arnita was head majorette at St. Augustine High.
Another one of Arnita’s younger sisters, Bobbi Halyburton, said she always remembered her sisters as her best friends.
“Being her sister has been the happiest thing of my life,” Bobbi said.
So when it came time for Arnita’s pageant, she had the support of the whole family.
Winning Miss St. Augustine
Although it has been 50 years, the ladies still remember watching their sister prepare for her big pageant.
Arnita practiced a lot for the talent portion of the pageant all while keeping her eye on the prize: the bathing suit.
“I really wanted to win the talent part,” she said. It was special to her since she was head majorette at school.
“I twirled fire batons for the talent part,” she said.
Although she was younger, Penny has managed to hold on to a few memories from Arnita’s time in pageants.
She recalls one specific time Arnita walked around the house with books on her head and her back straight.
“She was practicing to hold her head high,” Penny said.
That paired with Arnita’s flamed baton twirling made the family nervous, but they believed in her.
She had her friend Libby Cubbedge do her hair and by the night of the pageant, she was ready to light up the room, both figuratively and literally.
Arnita said she doesn’t remember being nervous and that she did everything for good fun with the pageant.
Bobbi said the icing on the cake was when her sister twirled with fire on the batons.
No one else did anything quite as dramatic as that, she said, although Arnita did manage to burn herself a tad while practicing at home.
There were a dozen contestants, but Arnita walked away that night in July 1965 with the crown and title of Miss St. Augustine — St. Johns County Beauty Contest winner.
The next day her picture was in the paper, and her family couldn’t have been more proud.
“She was amazing,” Penny said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think she would win.”
In the end, Arnita won the turquoise one-piece bathing suit she was yearning for in the beginning.
After the pageant
After winning the initial pageant, Arnita continued on to other pageants. She represented St. Johns County at the Miss Florida pageant and participated in many different pageants throughout North Florida.
Unlike other pageant girls, Arnita didn’t enter the pageants for the title of beauty queen, but instead for the fun and to represent the county.
“Some of the pageants that I participated in afterwards were like a career for the girls,” Arnita said. “I was 16.”
In addition to representing the county in pageants, Arnita also hosted a slew of other events since it was the city’s 400th celebration.
“It was part of the whole celebration because that was the quadricentennial year,” she said.
Arnita said she participated in lights and fireworks and a lot of other things for the city.
One memory both Bobbi and Arnita share is the time Arnita had to play tour guide to a group of sailors from the Portuguese Navy.
“I remember when they had sailors come to visit the city, and I acted like a hostess for them, showing them around and stuff like that,” she said, “just different things to help promote the city.”
Bobbi remembers some cultural barriers.
“Of course they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Portuguese so that was an interesting time,” Bobbi laughed.
Furthering her career
Arnita didn’t stay a pageant girl her whole life. She had big plans of becoming a nurse.
After graduating from high school, Arnita moved to Miami and started college.
She worked for a while and then went to nursing school.
While working as a dental assistant in Miami, Arnita decided to start looking for another job, so she could continue in school. She needed a job that would allow her to take classes during the day and work at night.
That’s when a friend suggested the Miami Playboy Club.
Arnita took the offer for the job and spent a year working at the Playboy Club.
“They put you through a lot of training,” Arnita said.
Funny enough, Arnita started her first official day of work on her 21st birthday.
After the year, Arnita returned to looking for a job and continued in nursing school.
She called about a spot at a restaurant called Tony Roma’s.
The restaurant that originally opened in North Miami in 1972 has since spread worldwide.
In 1976, Clint Murchison Jr., a Texas financier and owner of the Dallas Cowboys was in Miami for the Super Bowl and after a taste of Tony Roma’s food, he was convinced it was the best he’d ever had, according to the restaurant’s website.
That being the case, Arnita found getting into the door was harder than it looked, until she mentioned her previous job.
Initially, the manager was hesitant to hire Arnita and asked if she had any experience.
“I said ‘Yeah, I was a Playboy Bunny,’” she laughed. “He said okay come see me.”
Five days a week during the day, Arnita was in school but at night, she worked at Tony Roma’s Restaurant as a hostess.
“I worked there the whole time I was in nursing school and made good money, so I was able to support myself, and get through school,” she said, “The thing was Playboy gave me that in.”
Life in Biscayne
Arnita now works at Baptist Health as an Ultrasound Technologist.
“I keep adding on to my career,” she said.
In 1986, Arnita Halyburton became Arnita Halyburton-Rivero when she married her husband of more than 20 years, Rolando Rivero.
For the last 12 years, she and her husband have been living the dream on a 48-foot Sportfish in Key Biscayne, which is an island off Miami.
They’ve traveled to places like the Bahamas, St. Augustine and others.
“We usually leave every other weekend and go somewhere,” Arnita said.
Through all of her traveling, Arnita stays close to her parents, sisters, brothers and her daughter Vicki Laymon.
Bobbi says the bond they share as sisters is special.
“My sisters are my best friends to this day, and I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said.