Sensational Seniors Sparkle in Pageant


William Kohler

(l-r) Sandra Miller-Erkus, Talent Winner and First Runner-up Gayla Kalp Jackson, Ms Senior Culver City 2014, Elaine Brammell, Second Runner-up

By Sandra Coopersmith

Features Writer

"How many Ms. Senior Culver City contestants does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

"A light bulb? Seriously? With their talent and personality, these ladies already light up any room."

And on Sunday afternoon, May 4, that radiant room was at the Culver City Senior Center, the site of the seventh Ms. Senior Culver City pageant.

The judging process was divided into four segments: personal interview before the doors opened to the public (30%); evening gown (20%); philosophy of life (20%) and talent (30%).

The Pledge of Allegiance was given by Captain William C. Kohler, USMC, retired. The flag was presented by Al Hicks, president-elect of the California-Nevada District Exchange Clubs. A glorious rendition of the national anthem by Alise Richel-Adler, Ms. Sr. California 2013, was followed by an enthusiastic welcome from Debbie Cahill, the center's Senior Program Specialist.

The well qualified judges were Amber Gainey Meade, Elmer Armstrong, Deana Linderholm, Rick Hudson, Lionel Crown and Patty Billingslea. Judith Talbot was timekeeper. Contestants are required to comply with strictly enforced time limits to avoid penalization.

Pageant Director Marilyn Kohler introduced Pamela Wheeler, CEO and Director of the Ms. Senior California of America Pageant Program. Wheeler shared her vision for the organization's growth and service potential.

And then, with a swoosh of sequins, the opening number presented 12 contestants, ages 63 to 82, whose backgrounds spanned a wide variety of interests and careers. This dazzling dozen consisted of Myrna Motzer, Aynne Louise, Alma Gamez, Judie McAskill, Patricia Stewart, Mary Nelson, Elaine Brammell, Gayla Kalp Jackson, Gail Stebbins, Sandra Miller-Erkus, Lea London and Barbara Sheahan.

An eclectic and delightful afternoon followed, combining song, dance, humor, artistic ability and commentary, and it's no exaggeration to say they really rocked (and not in chairs mounted on curved slats).

Interspersed were a raffle plus musical interludes by several Ms. Senior California winners (Alise Richel-Adler, Klyda Mahoney, Peggy Padilla and Susan Cashman), whose performances ignited the capacity crowd.

Adding a tinge of bittersweet, it was announced that popular mainstay Marilyn Kohler was retiring as Pageant Director. Rick Hudson expressed Culver City's great appreciation for her dedication, and presented her with a pin bearing the city's seal.

Marcia Zadian, the striking Ms. Senior Culver City 2013, reflected on her experience of entering and winning.

"I tell people I came alive at 65 – that was five years ago – competing in several pageants the last five years and always winning a trophy but never the big one until last year's win with Culver City," she said, recalling that she was so dazed at the announcement another contestant had to prod her to accept.

Having maintained a 60-pound weight loss for many years, she is "passionate about health, especially for seniors. As a Weight Watchers Leader for the past 15 years it's important for me to help seniors improve their quality of life, and I understand that weight issues are emotional time bombs that can lead to bouts of depression, low self esteem and desperation."

During her reign she appeared several times with the Silver Girls, proudly wearing her sash.

"Once you've entered a pageant you can be a member of the Silver Girls who go out and perform, and we performed in senior centers, assisted care facilities, fairs, etc., just about anyplace where we could bring enjoyment to seniors," Zadian said. "After all performances we'd go out in the audience and talk to seniors. What has made this journey wonderful is seeing the delight on seniors' faces, and many have expressed deep emotion and true thanks for coming out and entertaining. For some we have made their day, and to me this is the essence of life."

And now, tiara time had arrived.

The first awardee was Sandra Miller-Erkus, who won the talent trophy for her exquisite vocal performance, complete with syncopated movements, of The Doll Song from Tales of Hoffman.

The second runner-up trophy went to Elaine Brammell, whose saucy presentation of "I'm a Woman" included shedding garments to reveal a gold top and shorts on a killer body.

Clearly on a roll, Miller-Erkus then also captured the first runner-up trophy.

And as Dorcas Preston, Ms. Senior California and Senior America 2001 serenaded her with the Queen's Walk theme song, the coveted title of Ms. Senior Culver City 2014 went to the stunning Gayla Kalp Jackson, who, in her talent segment, had movingly told of how the classic bugle melody known as Taps came into being.

Now retired and involved in charity work, this grandmother's extensive resume includes professional actress; several advanced college degrees; owner, for several years, of an international cable television management firm; featured columnist for three industrial magazines; and psychotherapist for the Glendale Police Department, working with gangs and troubled teens.

As Ms. Senior Culver City 2014, Jackson hopes to educate the younger generation about the great value seniors have brought to their lives and the opportunities they've made possible. "To many, once you've hit 50 you're on the shelf," she said. "They don't have a clue about what you've contributed, that you've done great stuff so that they can do what they do."

Jackson and Miller-Erkus, as the two top finalists, will advance to the Ms. Senior California Pageant on August 23 at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster. Ms. Senior California will then go on to the Ms. Senior America Pageant on October 30 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

If you're a woman of at least 60 and an American citizen whose vibrant love of life cries out to be shared, check out and consider entering next year. To quote Zadian, "The pageant is a way to showcase our life journey. It is a way to share our accomplishments, talents and passions. We have so much energy and enjoyment to bring to those that experience the pageant."

William Kohler

Going by Sunday's memorable, inspiring and totally pleasing event, regardless of whether that experience is as contestant or audience, it will be a sure winner.


Reader Comments(2)

Karinjoy writes:

Wow, these ladies are redefining what it means to be a senior! They are gorgeous, as well as talented role models and spirited leaders! Great article, Sandra, thanks for continually reminding us of all the good in the world!

Ameree writes:

Thanks for the great coverage for our pageant


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