By JEN CARDINES
Celia Harris’s covered her face as the crowded room at Mulberry Gardens exploded in applause and cheers. Officials draped a satin sash over the octogenarian, along with a sparkling tiara and a bouquet of flowers.
The moment was the culmination of Mulberry Garden’s eighth annual Ms. Senior Mulberry Pageant, held on Friday, June 2. The 83 year old woman was crowned Ms. Senior Mulberry 2017.
Harris was one of 12 contestants—all residents at the Mulberry Gardens campus or members of the affiliated adult day center—during the “Unforgettable” themed pageant. She was followed by first runner-up Annette Krechevsky and second runner-up Marylen Hossan.
Note: See the candidate’s bios at the bottom of the article.
“Our pageant committee works extremely hard throughout the entire year to make this a monumental event in the lives of our residents,” said Mulberry Gardens’ new executive director Katie Mauriello. “It was one of the reasons why I was so eager to work at this extraordinary community.”
After the curlers were set and make-up was applied with help from their sponsors, the pageant women put on their best dresses and were escorted down a red carpet. They took their seats onstage where they were peppered with lighthearted questions about their favorite hobbies and pastimes.
“The smiles and reactions on their faces were truly priceless,” said Mauriello.
WFSB meteorologist and co-host of Better Connecticut’s Scot Haney served as the event emcee, introducing the women and asking them, “What keeps you young?”
Harris and Haney bantered about what it was like growing up in the 1930s and 1940s as one of eight children. She talked about her husband of 64 years, Robert, along with her three children and granddaughter, but Harris won over the crowd when she spoke about her honeymoon to the Florida Keys.
“How long was it?” asked Haney.
“Four weeks,” she said, flirtatiously, drawing a raised eyebrow from Haney and giggles from the crowd.
Haney kept the discussion lively as he joked with contestants and interacted with the audience between contestants.
Marilyn White went toe-to-toe with Haney, earning the “best sense of humor” award when she told the meteorologist that she was once in Elvis Presley’s bedroom—pausing before adding that it was on a tour of Graceland. The two then sang “Love Me Tender” in harmony, laughing between phrases.
Contestants were judged by Kimberly Beaudoin, Mrs. Connecticut USA Universal; Kathy Faber of Kathy Faber Designs; and Alyssa Taglia, Miss Connecticut. Everyone went home a winner.
“Our judges and emcee were exceptional and compassionate throughout the entire event,” Mauriello said.
While the judges deliberated, the Mulberry Gardens Choir kept the audience entertained by singing Irving Gordon’s “Unforgettable”—a song made famous by the late Nat King Cole—to honor the pageant’s theme. During their rendition of “God Bless the USA,” last year’s winner Sue Scanlon stood up and danced.
Then, it was time to adorn the lovely ladies in their respective sashes.
After expressing her love of dance and the many styles she used to do, Millie Arena was named “most talented.” Rita Cerbasie, who celebrated her 100th birthday last week, received the “most sophisticated” distinction. Rose Griffin was awarded “nicest smile” while the “most energetic” contestant was Jaqueline Hafner.
Loretta LaFreniere was deemed “Ms. Congeniality,” a pageant distinction for the friendliest person, and said she enjoys helping people. Diane Meola’s baby blues won her the “nicest eyes” award and Joan Miron’s chuckles gave her “best laugh.” The “most elegant” contestant was Margaret Verzulli.
When all was said and done, Harris walked away as the newest Ms. Mulberry, arm-in-arm with her husband, Robert. They are both members of the Mulberry Gardens community.
When asked what keeps her young, Harris said, “My husband.”
To contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Meet the Ms. Senior Mulberry Contestants:
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI
Celia Harris (Ms. Senior Mulberry 2017)
Celia was born in New Britain on Aug. 27, 1933 as one of eight children. She married Robert Harris on Feb. 27, 1953 at St. Andrews Church in New Britain. They drove to the Florida Keys for their honeymoon, where they stayed for four weeks.
In her early years, she did bookkeeping and payroll at Kay’s Jewelers. Later, she worked for the New Britain Board of Education.
Her hobbies include camping and going on cruises.
She was nominated/sponsored by Debbie Peterson.
Annette ‘Nan’ Krechevsky (Ms. Senior Mulberry 2017 runner-up)
Annette was born and raised in Hartford. She married her high school sweetheart, Tim, on June 21. This year, they will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary. The couple shares three children and six grandchildren.
“Nan” graduated from St. Francis School of Nursing as a Registered Nurse. She was a local chapter president for Woman’s American ORT, a worldwide organization for rehabilitation through training. In 1990, she founded the first Connecticut Epilepsy Foundation.
Her hobbies include knitting, sewing, painting, and dancing.
She was nominated/sponsored by Maria Tarantino.
Marylen Hossan (Ms. Senior Mulberry 2017 second runner-up)
Marylen was born in Stamford. She has also lived in Norwalk and Danbury, where she raised her four daughters. Being a first grade teacher and volunteering for “Meals on Wheels” gave her the most pleasure.
Some of her hobbies include painting, drawing, singing, and dancing.
She was nominated/sponsored by Jo-Anne Doner.
Loretta LaFreniere (Ms. Congeniality)
Loretta was born in Waterbury as Illuminate Demartino on Jan. 6, 1921. Her nickname, “Dada” was one that stuck for many years. She was married for over 50 years to her love and best friend, Paul, and lived in Middlebury in the home that Paul built for her. She was the mother of the late Diane Radke and the grandmother of Britany Anderson. She graduated from Bay Path College in New York and worked her entire career at CL&P.
Her hobbies included vacationing with her husband. Their journeys brought her to Canada, Africa, Greece, Spain, Alaska, Italy, and numerous islands..
She was nominated/sponsored by Tina.
Carmella ‘Millie’ Arena (Most Talented)
Millie was born in Middletown on Aug. 20, 1920, moved to New Britain, and raised her family in Southington. Her sister introduced Millie to her husband, Nick, but she refused his early advances. Eventually they married, and they share four children.
Millie worked at Fafner Bearing for many years.
Her hobbies include dancing, sewing, and cooking.
She was nominated/sponsored by Mary Schneider.
Rita Cerbasie (Most Sophisticated)
Rita was born on May 27, 1917 and raised in Waterbury. She has one child, Debra, and two grandchildren, Ryan and Adam. Being a homemaker and a hair dresser gave her a lot of pleasure. This year, Rita turned 100, but it hasn’t slowed her down.
Her hobbies include reading, walking, exercising, and working on crafts.
She was nominated/sponsored by Doreen Porter-Dube.
Rose Griffin (Nicest Smile)
Rose was born in Waterbury on Sept. 16, 1927. She and her husband, George, share five children, 10 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren. Rose became a Registered Nurse during World War II, and she worked at the state veterans hospital. Volunteering at the Red Cross and the literacy department gave her much pleasure.
Her hobbies include reading, sewing, and boating with her husband in Long Island Sound.
She was nominated/sponsored by Aneisha.
Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Hafner (Most Energetic)
Jackie was born in Bethel, Vt. Then, she moved to New Britain. She has two sons and two grandsons. She graduated from New Britain High School where she learned short hand, and she worked for New Britain Machine for many years.
Her hobbies include bowling, and she was involved in a bowling league as soon as her children were old enough for school.
She was nominated/sponsored by Adrienne Levin.
Diane Meola (Nicest Eyes)
Diane was born in Southington on Feb. 4, 1930. She worked as a secretary in a store-like setting. She loves young children, and you can instantly see her face light up (and theirs) when she around little ones.
Her hobbies include playing Bingo, listening to music (especially Italian music), attending church activities, and shopping.
She was nominated/sponsored by her niece, Maria Davis.
Joan Miron (Best Laugh)
Joan was born in Ticonderoga, N.Y. on May 11, 1933 and later moved to Southington. She has one son, David, who is her pride and joy. She worked at Lake Eyelet Manufacturing.
Her hobbies include dancing, singing, listening to music, and socializing with her friends.
She was nominated/sponsored by Jessie Ouelette.
Margaret Verzulli (Most Elegant)
Margaret was born in New Britain on March 2, 1929 and later moved to Plainville. She has two daughters, Peggy and Julie, along with five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She worked as a telephone operator and in the credit office. She loves to travel, visiting Spain, Italy, Ireland, and England.
Her hobbies include listening to opera and studying genealogy. She even wrote a family history book.
She was nominated/sponsored by Priscilla Boima and Stephanie Robinson.
Marilyn White (Best Sense of Humor)
Marilyn was born in Washburn, Maine, on July 16, 1942 and also lived in Naples, Fla. and Southington. She worked as a paralegal at Emhart Headquarters.
Her hobbies include traveling, reading, going to the movies, and listening to music (especially Elvis). She was once in Elvis’ bedroom. What she doesn’t tell you is that it was during a tour of Graceland.
She was nominated/sponsored by Haseena.