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The Ms. Sr. CA Pageant: age is just a number, accomplishment a lifelong journey

C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream.” The thirteen contestants in the Ms. Senior California Pageant embodied this, as they pursued the dream of being crowned Ms. Senior California 2013 and the honor of representing the state in the Ms. Senior America Pageant in October. The pageant was held on Saturday, August 31, 2013 at the Rose Center Theatre in Westminster, with the theme “The Best is Yet to Come!” Each woman modeled this, proving that age is just a number, and accomplishment is a lifelong journey.

Alise Richel of Santa Monica was crowned Ms. Senior California 2013. She competed against 13 contestants who came from all over California on Saturday, August 31, 2013 at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster, CA.
Lynn O'Connell
The reigning Queen, Alise Richel, Ms. Senior California 2013
Jonathan's Photography

The Ms. Senior America program was first launched in 1972, to spotlight and bring honor to American woman 60 years of age and older who have reached the “Age of Elegance”. The California chapter was created in 1986, and is now in its 26th year. As the largest senior pageant program in the nation, it has great prominence within the Senior Pageant organization. Any woman who wishes to compete in the Ms. Senior California Pageant must first win a regional prize. Newly appointed Pageant Director Pamela Wheeler proclaimed, “Honestly, any of the women who were on the stage today could compete nationally—we’re so proud of that fact. We’re going to continue to grow this program and encourage women to stay alive and connected with life!”

This year’s Pageant saw an increase in new media and international media coverage. A Denmark TV crew spent the day with the contestants filming a documentary: Feldthaus in the StatesForever Young, which focuses on how Americans in California live their lives to the fullest. New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD) also covered the pageant. This news organization has correspondents in over 70 cities worldwide, and the station’s broadcasts reaches 200 million viewers globally, including 50 million in mainland China.

Thirteen women with regional titles from Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside County, Orange County, Ventura County, and San Diego were judged in the areas of evening gown/formal attire, philosophy of life statement, and talent. Alise Richel from Santa Monica took home the crown with her rendition of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. Her performance of the aria received a standing ovation, and Alise became the stand-out favorite for winning the talent prize. This proved prescient, as she is now the reigning California Queen.

Alise’s joy was evident on her face, and in her voice. “It’s indescribable, just the strangest feeling, very much the strangest feeling! I have to say that, I share this experience with 13 other fabulous women, and they were all very supportive. All the former Queens were very supportive—so it really is quite a thrill.”

Every contestant displayed that life need not diminish in your latter years. In fact, it can be a time of renaissance. From the elegant and vibrant evening wear to the energetic and polished presentations to the literate and provocative philosophy of life statements, each woman served to inspire, challenge, and uplift people of all ages to be the best they can be, no matter what the stage of life.

Fabie Kay Combs, Ms. Senior Orange County 2013 and second runner-up, wore a Spanish Don costume while playing a Flamenco-style love song on Spanish guitar. Her sparkling humor and enthusiasm were evident at each stage of the competition. “I’m an Otter, Otter’s have fun! If you ever go to the zoo, they’re the ones sliding down the rocks, on their backs, diving in—they just know how to have fun.”

When director Pamela Wheeler asked Fabie, ‘Why are you here?’, she said, ‘because I like to have fun, and this sounds like fun!’ It was a lot more work than I thought, but it’s still been fun.”

The pageant’s focus of staying vital and connected to life resonated with Fabie, as well as her ability to share her faith in her philosophy of life statement. “My strongest strength is my faith. God’s first—we’re here as ambassadors of the Lord, to go proclaim his love and share his grace.”

Jeanne Lenhart is no stranger to the California pageant circuit. Jeanne was first runner up in the 2012 Ms. Senior California Pageant, and was the 2012 Ms. Senior San Diego. She won first runner up in the 2013 Ms. Inland Empire, which qualified her to compete again in the Ms. Senior California competition. Jeanne tap danced to “I Got Rhythm” for her talent portion and was fourth runner up this time around. Jeanne spoke highly of the experience, and the women who make up the organization. “This group of people, myself included, we enjoy life. So we’re always up for, what’s the next scary thing we can do?”

Elizabeth Howard, the 2012 Ms. Senior California and 2012 Ms. Senior America, sang Verdi’s “Sempre Libera” from La Traviata, before passing the torch onto Alise. Elizabeth discussed her process during the 2012 competition and how it transformed her. “I focused on doing my best in all four categories. I rehearsed every day. During the two years I was doing pageants I lost 30 pounds, I got the right person to work on my hair, learned about my makeup, and eyelashes—little details like that.”

As she prepares to pass the mantle to the national winner later this year, Elizabeth is feeling complete. “I just feel better about myself. I always thought I did feel better, but this was a refreshing experience. It motivated me to just reach out more, and help others feel good about themselves.”

As the reigning Ms. Senior California, Alise Richel will receive an all-expense paid trip to Atlantic City for the national competition. With less than two months before the October date, Alise is already in planning mode. “My first preparation is to consult with my former Queens who have been there, to see what new things I need. And sometimes they send particular instructions on dress, theme, and so on; then I have to plan how to pack, and what I have to do with my hair.”

Although Alise is gearing up for the national contest, she continues to teach her vocal students, and is writing a book based on her approach to the art of singing. Her encouragement to those who say that they can’t do something because... is a change of mindset. “If you feel you can’t do this, maybe you’re wrong, maybe you can; or maybe there’s something else that you could be doing. The important thing is to keep alive, work at being alive, and help others. Get involved with helping other people.”

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