Meet the local Ms. Senior America winners

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Emily Hatton

The word “pageant” generally brings to mind big hair, big gowns and little swimsuits. The Ms. Senior America Pageant however, focuses more on big personalities.

Its philosophy is “based on the beliefs that seniors are the foundations of America,” according to its mission statement. Since 1972, contestants and title holders, who must be at least 60 years old, have been responsible for motivating senior citizens to maintain an active lifestyle.

Washington, D.C. and Virginia each host a local pageant, whose winners go on to compete for the national title. While Maryland has not held a state pageant for several years, it is still represented by a woman chosen by the national office. The 2011 national pageant will take place in Atlantic City, N.J. from Oct. 2 to 7.

 “It’s exciting. It’s certainly something different,” said Wendy Pinhey, Ms. Senior Virginia assistant state director. “It’s one way of at least putting in sight that senior citizens aren’t sitting in their rocking chairs. They’re out there, and they’re doing community service, and they’re performing, and they become parts of the community.”

Virginia winners share stories

“I liked their philosophy about giving back, outreach to community, and encouraging and inspiring other seniors,” said Linda George, second runner-up in the 2011 Virginia pageant.

A retired chaplain living in Springfield, Va., George stays active performing Broadway classics at senior centers as well as volunteering in hospitals and with her church.

“There are no requirements for bathing suits, thank goodness. And everybody’s body size and type are perfect for this pageant…. It’s as much about inner beauty and outreach,” George said.

Arlington resident Patty Heenan, 62, earned the Virginia Ms. Congeniality title. She said she loved meeting the other contestants and stays in touch with them.

“It was exciting, stressful, we were laughing and cracking jokes, and we really bonded,” said Heenan, who runs 5 and 10Ks and is also pursuing her college degree while working.

In the competition, contestants are judged on four areas: an interview, a 35-second statement of the contestant’s “philosophy of life,” evening gown and talent.

Louise Wade of Dublin, Va., took home the title of Ms. Senior Virginia 2011. Wade wrote a book, Melody’s Song, about her experiences with her daughter who has cerebral palsy, and continues to work with mentally and physically challenged individuals.

Maryland’s representative

Jean Milazzo will take the stage in Atlantic City, N.J. in October as Ms. Senior Maryland 2011. She resides in southern Anne Arundel County, but travels all over Maryland as the state representative.

“I’m trying to get to as many counties in the state as I possibly can and show that you can be active. You can do things and you should,” she said.

Milazzo works with the South County Showstoppers, a group that performs variety acts in nursing homes and senior centers. In the past year, they traveled to six counties for over 30 shows.

“Even if you don’t win the pageant, the journey is just so rewarding. I guess I’m just really getting a lot back, interacting with people my age,” she said.

 “Ms. Senior America is based on being a role model for volunteerism and a role model for people 60 years old. They can see ‘if you can do it, I can do it too,’” Milazzo continued.

As Milazzo prepares for this years’ pageant, the 2010 Ms. Senior Maryland, Terri Hazel of Bethesda, leads movement workshops tailored to older adults at senior centers.

Hazel modifies the dancing to be wheelchair friendly, having dancers waive scarves or beat maracas in time with multicultural music.

In addition to the classes, she runs a dance company she and her late husband started, On Stage America. She also has written a ballet syllabus, “Techniques by Terri,” discussing an approach to teaching dance to young children.

Hazel said she acts as a role model by staying busy. “I never stop. I just keep going,” she said.

 “We’re trying to get that message out more than anything else, that just because you hit a certain magic number, like let’s say 65, your life isn’t over,” said Pinhey. “It’s just another way to bring to the forefront that there is an active community of senior citizens everywhere you look.”

See “Spotlight on Aging” in last month’s issue of the Beacon for an article about the Ms. Senior D.C. pageant, won by retired teacher and U.S. Agriculture Dept. employee Emma P. Ward.

For more information on the Ms. Senior America competition, see www.senioramerica.org.