By TAYLOR HARTZ
A tall tiara sparkled atop the curly, white hair of Terry Kaelin on Thursday afternoon, when the 87-year-old was crowned Ms. Senior Mulberry.
In the sixth annual beauty contest held at the Mulberry Gardens of Southington, 10 women from the Southington program and Marian Heights Adult Day Center in New Britain competed in a “Pearls of Wisdom” pageant.
Judged by Mrs. Connecticut 2015 Kimberly Beaudoin, Channel 3 news anchor Melissa Cole, and Bristol dress shop owner and designer Kathy Faber, the pageant’s mission is to provide a platform “for senior women who are models of graceful age, poise and confidence.”
Residents of the two facilities, staff, volunteers, and family members filled the lobby of Mulberry Gardens to watch the women show off their gowns, discuss their favorite hobbies and share their “secret to staying young,” as they conversed with host Kim Lucey, reporter and news anchor for Channel 3.
The lobby was decorated with shining white balloons, a tall entrance archway, and dozens of floral arrangements, as pianist Dennis Milner played classical numbers to the crowd.
Five former Ms. Senior Mulberry’s were recognized, including 104-year-old Minnie Giannattasio and friend Edith Knapp, who applauded from the front row, proudly wearing their sashes and crowns.
As each contestant made their entrance, Lucey recognized staff and local stylists who volunteered their time to find each contestant a floor length gown, donated by Savers, and perfect their hair and makeup designs.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for these ladies to dress up and get a little bit of attention,” said Lucey.
While she enjoyed seeing the women in their pageant attire, Lucey said her favorite part of the evening was seeing the contestants’ reaction to the awards.
After showing off their formalwear, the women shared lessons learned in their careers as school-teachers and accountants, talked about their favorite musicians and restaurants, and shared stories of their travels to Hawaii and all across Europe.
Each contestant was given a sash and title based on their entrance with their escorts and their interviews with Lucey—including Nicest Smile, Ms. Congeniality, and Most Sophisticated.
When it came time for the final three, Lucey handed out three sparkling crowns, paired with white and pink Ms. Mulberry sashes and large rose bouquets donated by Nyren’s of New England Florist.
Dorothy Field, 77, of Southington, broke down in tears as her name was called for the pageant’s second runner up. Wiping her eyes as she admired her new title, Field said she was so surprised to be recognized and was looking forward to writing letters to her children to share the news.
Kaelin, this year’s Senior Ms. Mulberry, shared congratulatory hugs with her sons and enjoyed chocolate covered strawberries after walking the runway and practicing her beauty queen wave for the crowd.
Kaelin, of New Britain, said that her favorite part of the day was having her family, friends and members of the community all together.
The annual event was made possible thanks to donations and sponsorship from nearly 20 local businesses and community members. The gowns, crowns and flowers were all donated, and judges, escorts, and hosts volunteered their time to make the pageant special for contestants and entertaining for residents and families.
While the pageant offered many residents a chance to entertain family and friends, Mulberry Gardens Recreation Coordinator Maria Tarantino that the excitement surrounding the event helps volunteers and staff members bond all year.
Laura Boggio, an RN at Mulberry Gardens, and member of the committee that works year round to plan the pageant, agreed. The event has grown into part of the lifestyle at Mulberry Gardens, said Boggio, “it’s a beautiful thing for the residents and for the staff.”