ATLANTIC CITY — The newly crowned Ms. Senior America is homegrown Jersey Girl.
Carolyn Slade Harden, 73, of Manchester in Ocean County, won the title Thursday, Oct. 19 at the national pageant held at Resorts Casino.
Born and raised in the Garden State, she wowed the crowd singing Stevie Wonder's “For Once in My Life.”
She slowed the melody and made it hers, and the full house responded with cheers and applause.
Johanne Santori of Margate, who has been the state coordinator of the Ms. Senior New Jersey Pageant for the past decade, embraced her husband, Adeo, onstage after the competition and said, “We finally have our queen.”
Santori was unable to hold back her tears of joy. She said Slade Harden is the first Ms. Senior America from New Jersey to be crowned since she got involved in the pageant.
Ms. Senior Tennessee Donna Vincler, who was the first runner-up, received a standing ovation for performing a lyrical ballet while signing “God Bless America.”
Ms. Senior New York Lee Ann Brill hit every note singing “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha.” The third runner-up was Ms. Senior Wyoming Sharon Parry, who performed a monologue about her experience running the Boston Marathon and the distance women have traveled since the first woman was permitted to run in the 1970s.
Ms. Senior Pennsylvania Peggy Kurtz Keller, who was fourth runner-up, performed “Summertime.”
Outgoing Ms. Senior America Peggy Lee Brennan-Haberer gave a farewell address after a year of traveling the country not only promoting the pageant, but showing what women over the age of 60 are capable of doing.
She drew some laughs when she said entering the pageant was her “coming out party” of sorts.
“I had not told my age in over 40 years. I did not know how people would take it when they found out I was over 60,” Brennan-Haberer said.
She repeated the message she spread across the country: “Age does not define us. You are never too old to dream a new dream, and you are never too old to make a new friend or to begin again.”
Now it will be Slade-Harden’s year to travel the country and show people of all ages and especially seniors that there is value in each and every day.
“I am thrilled beyond words,” the new queen said. “This will sink in tomorrow.”
The Ms. Senior pageant is in its 39th year, and it all began in New Jersey, said pageant founder Dr. Al Mott. Mott owned a retirement home at the time and wanted to put something together that showed the elegance of women who were over the age of 60.
“I wanted them to see, just because you are over 60 does not mean the rocking chair. There are talented and beautiful women here,” he said.
Thursday's finals followed two days of preliminary competition. The women competed in evening wear, talent and interview, where they explained their personal philosophy of life.
For the first time, the pageant winner will receive a stipend to help cover her travel expenses. Bringing Ms. Senior across the country has been the goal of the organizers for many years.
The travel and appearance requests will be filling her voicemail soon, but for right now, Carolyn Slade Harden can revel in being the reigning senior queen. She has the crown, sash and a new legion of fans to prove it.