From left to right: Third runner-up, Phyllis Chickett from MN. First runner-up, Ruth Gibson from ME. 2009 Queen - Toya Andrew from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Second runner-up, Connie Gabriel from MN. 4th runner-up and winner of the Flaming Glow award, Lynnette Schlager from Pahrump, Nevada.
The winners' court at this year's Senior Sweethearts pageant is shown above. From left to right are first runner-up Frances Christian, second runner-up Lynette Schlager, Marty Tuohy and his wife, Miss Senior Sweetheart winner Carol Tuohy, fourth runner-up Divina Alora-Jacome, and third runner-up Sharon Maloney.
Steve Aguiar, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ms Senior Sweetheart Pageants of American Inc, with 2005-2006 queen Virginia Freeman and Anita Raposa, 1st Queen of the Ms Senior Sweetheart Pageants in 1978
WESTPORT -- Len Kaplan recalls residents laughing when he proposed having what he called "little old ladies" dress in old-fashion swimsuits.
"Most of you said I was nuts, but I'm still here," Kaplan told members of the Lions Club of Fall River. "And you're still here," he noted.
Also still around, Kaplan announced, is the Ms. National Senior Sweetheart Pageant of America, in its eighth year as a nationwide contest since it spawned from a fund-raiser for the Lions Club in Fall River 24 years ago.
At a Lions Club meeting Wednesday at White's of Westport, Kaplan and other organizers and sponsors announced that this year's pageant talent show will be held Oct. 31 at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, co-hosted by New Bedford Mayor Frederick M. Kali Jr.
Thesecond part of the pageant will be held at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River on Nov. 3, with a performance by Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr.
"The only thing I can tell you about the show is get your tickets because they're going fast," said Steven Aguiar, chairman of this year's event. "Based on what we see this year, we're going to have a great, great year."
Tickets are available at Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank branches, the Gob Shop or by calling Kaplan at 508-675-0249.
So far, 25 contestants older then 59 have signed up for the contest, coming from across the country, Kaplan said.
More and more contestants have been coming from more distant states since the Fall River pageant was first held in 1978, Kaplan said. Soon after, more people signed up and it became a southeastern Massachusetts pageant, and then a regional pageant, he said.
In 1997, pageant organizers were invited to the "Phil Donahue Show," and suddenly received letters from seniors across the country interested in getting involved. Since then, the show has also been featured on "Real People," and the "Joan Rivers Show."
With the pageant nearing its 25th anniversary, "I hope someday we'll have a lady representing every state," Kaplan said, hoping the event turns into a sort of Miss America pageant.
Anita Raposa, 87, the event's first Miss Senior Sweetheart -- also winning the honor in 1982 as Miss Southern New England -- said entering the pageant was the best thing she could have done in her retired years, saying she met many people and found new opportunities.
"Once I ran in the pageant the doors opened up," she said.
Since, she's been a volunteer, visiting senior centers and organizations convincing people to enter the contest.
"The show has been so good I've been with it ever since," Raposa said.
By the time the pageant had run for three years, organized by what Kaplan called a "Boston celebrity," Kaplan decided the show needed more.
That's when he decided the show needed old-fashioned swimsuits.
"But of course, they're not just 'little old ladies,' " Kaplan said. "They're beautiful ladies."
Milton J. Valencia may be reached at email@example.com.