It’s (Senior) Beauty Pageant Time!

Celebrating the beauty of mature women

By Susan Hindman

[Note: At the fall 2008 pageants, Olivia Haley, Ms. Tennessee Senior America, was crowned Ms.
Senior America
; and Toya Andrew, from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands,
was crowned Ms. Senior Sweetheart.]

Maybe it has to do with all that potential for color, drama, and uniqueness. Whatever it is, two beauty pageants for seniors are coming up this fall. Quite different from typical pageants, these pageants showcase women who bring a depth of life experience and achievements to the stage.

The 28th Annual Ms. Senior America Pageant is October 19–25. Earlier in the year, preliminary contests were held all around the country, and winners representing 45 states will converge on Harrah's Resort Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There, a queen will be crowned, one who “best exemplifies the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans,” according to the pageant’s Web site.

The pageant is part of Senior America, Inc., a nonprofit founded in 1971 by Dr. Al Mott that also functions as an organization for men and women 50 and over. Contestants are 60 years or older—which the pageant refers to as the “age of excellence”—and are judged on personal interview, philosophy of life, formal attire, and talent. Judie Ohm, Wisconsin’s representative for 2008, told the Leader-Telegram, “It’s a real credit to mature women. There are a lot of women out there who do have a lot to give, a lot of inner beauty.”

The week will include a parade, meetings, interviews, rehearsals, a seniors expo, and the pageant itself on October 24.

Linda Wagner, Ms Senior AmericaThe 2007 winner was Linda Wagner (pictured left), a music teacher and singer from Minnesota.

The other fall pageant is the 30th annual Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant Oct. 23–Nov. 3, intended to show the public that ladies over 58 still have lots of pep in their step,” according to the pageant’s Web site. Contestants compete in talent, interviews, and an evening gown presentation. For the 30th year, the pageant will be held in New Bedford–Fall River, Massachusetts.

This year, two companies will be filming the pageant: one from Berlin, Germany, for a television presentation; the other, a New York company that is planning to make a movie about the competition and the obstacles the contestants have overcome in their lives. This year’s contestants range in age from 62 to 84; three are in their 80s. One recently had double bypass surgery, another is going through chemotherapy; still another is recovering from knee surgery.

Marion Gagnon, the pageant organizer, says the competition is not cutthroat. “All our contestants say they look forward to coming to our pageant because we are an extended family,” she said. “Everyone helps one another.” The pageant “shows the younger generation that we can have fun. We love to dance, sing, and go out . . . and we love to dress up.” Contestants don’t have to get involved in a state pageant to be in this one; they just apply directly to the pageant.

The pageant was started in 1978 as a Lions’ Club fund raiser and has been a national competition. In 2005, the door was opened to international competitors, and now plans are under way for a worldwide Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant. The pageant’s activities include tours, visits with dignitaries, special performances for shut-ins, and two days of pageantry.

Carol Tuohy, Ms Senior Sweetheart of AmericaThe 2007 Ms. Senior Sweetheart of America was Carol Tuohy (right), a 67-year-old cancer survivor from the Virgin Islands who beat out 22 other contestants. Her husband, Marty, gives her a congratulatory hug.

Published September 18, 2008

Susan Hindman
Silver Planet Feature Writer

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