Charlotte Allen will be the first Falls Church resident to compete for the title of Ms. Senior Virginia America this Friday in Alexandria, though there’s hardly anything senior about this charming grandma of 17.
Allen describes her own grandmother, who lived to be 98 years old, as a “fiesty old broad.”
“That’s going to be me kicking up my feet. I’m going to be out there shaking my tassels until I’m 100,” said Allen, who’s now 65 years young,
The state competition, aimed at “celebrating the age of elegance,” is open to women over 60 who’ve lived in Virginia for at least three months. Contestants are judged based on an interview, evening gown, “inner beauty” and talent competitions.
It was a pageant flyer posted at Reston Association, the homeowner’s association where Allen works part time, that originally caught her eye. Her 42-year-old daughter, Leea Lynch, took it from there.
“At first, my mom thought, ‘A pageant? Really?’ but I thought it’d be wonderful for her to do it. At this point in her life, it was something my mom needed being still somewhat new to the area,” said Lynch, who moved here with her mom from Detroit, Mich. four years ago.
Like mother like daughter, Lynch said she likewise hopes she’ll be able to “strut what [she] has” at 60.
Allen will be one of six contestants, with two others hailing from Northern Virginia. Maureen Ribble of Alexandria and Judith Krijgelmans of Reston join Allen, with the three other woman traveling from Staunton, Roanoke and Virginia Beach.
For Allen, the potentially-stiff competition failed to resonate as a threat. Instead, she said she’s met “great new friends,” while remaining equally confident in her own ability to win. If she does, she’ll join the 49 other state finalists in Atlantic City, N.J. to compete for the national crown, as well as the Ms. Senior America bragging rights.
“Even if I don’t win — which I plan to — I’d still want to go to Atlantic City just to see the other women’s performances,” said Allen, who ventured to the Jersey vacation spot once before for Christmas.
Support for the resident competitor poured in from friends and co-workers, all of whom stood behind Allen, vocalizing heart-felt sentiments about her contagious spirit.
Devera Bernhart, the wife of Allen’s pastor at Second Baptist Church in Falls Church, called Allen a “beautiful person,” going on to say that “beauty is ageless.”
“For some people, a pageant is a way to improve their self-esteem, but Charlotte’s already confident in who she is. She doesn’t need the validation,” said Bernhart.
Arlene Whittick, who befriended Allen over two years ago at work, was thrilled to hear one of Reston Association’s own would be “representing senior women proudly” with “poise” and a “shining spirit.”
“It’s a great opportunity to show the beauty of someone older in a society where, unfortunately, the perspective of beauty is only equated with the young,” said Whittick.
Virginia State Director of the pageant, 68-year-old Suzann Howe, said the pageant enabled her to rediscover a passion for singing she’d long neglected, feeling “younger people [around her] were singing much better.” Like Lynch was to Allen, Howe was encouraged by her son to give the pageant a try.
“He’d seen the announcement in the newspaper and he said, ‘Mom, you can do this,’” said Howe. She went on to compete the following year in 2005, winning as second runner-up and taking home a Community Service Award she holds dear to her heart. Howe previously did mission work with her church overseas.
Winning or not, all contestants automatically become part of the pageant’s Cameo Jewels traveling troupe. They entertain residents at local nursing and retirement homes with the same talent acts they perform in the pageant. Howe said that’s been one of her “favorite parts” because she gets to continue singing and see the seniors’ faces “light up.”
“It’s been fun to meet new people, and especially encouraging are our cameo appearances since we’re serving our community,” said Howe.
Allen lived at a senior apartment complex in Reston for a year, calling the situation a “drag.” She hopes being a Cameo Jewel will be a wake-up call for other seniors to become active, even when it comes to their romantic lives.
“I had a hard time inspiring the seniors there to do anything. Instead of sitting around knitting and gossiping, us women should be able to chase dirty old men with the best of them,” joked Allen.
Allen will be performing a monologue as her talent during tomorrow’s pageant, and said she’s looking forward and laying on a thick, Southern accent for her recitation of “In the Morning” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. But one thing that’s taking a little more getting used to is walking in heels.
During the interview with the News-Press, Allen whipped out the teetering footwear from her tote bag, saying “I don’t often wear heels, though I have been given the ability to do so at weddings.”
Leaving her sneakers at the wayside, Allen will take the stage at 2 p.m. tomorrow inside the Alexandria-based Lee Center Kaufman Auditorium to represent Falls Church, undoubtedly with “gusto.”