The Fan-tastic Search for Ms. Culver City Elegance 2017

Features Writer

We live in uncertain times but of one thing you can be sure: Sunday, May 7, 2017 the Culver City Senior Center was clearly the place to be for an entertaining and exciting display of lovely ladies exuding charm and elegance. The nine contestants, collectively dubbed The Fan-tastics, lit up the packed room as they competed for the title of Ms. Culver City Elegance. With the co-sponsorship of Culver City Senior Citizens Association (CCSCA) and Culver City Exchange Club, this new tradition that wasstarted in 2016 happily continued this year. This Fan-tastic event, organized by Judie McAskill, Show Director and member of CCSCA, and Marilyn Kohler, Show Co-Director, was captured by videographer and photographer Brent Backhus (, whose photography accompanies this article. McAskill, a talented artist and performer and Culver City resident since 1993, is a dedicated supporter of senior events. Kohler, an entertainer and retired State Director of the Ms. Senior California state pageant program, is an Honorary Ms. Senior America 2008. Her Senior Sensational Ladies (former Ms. Senior California contestants) perform at many events.Debbie Cahill, the center's Senior Program Specialist, got the ball rolling by calling on McAskill who, after completing her thank you "shout outs,"introduced emcee Richard Champion. The Fan-tastics, led by Sandy Mansson, Ms. Culver City Elegance 2016, then entered and proceeded to the screened area by the stage.

After the pledge of allegiance led by Shirley Kym Campbell, treasurer of CCSCA, and an outstanding rendition of our national anthem by Susan Cashman, Ms. Senior California 2007, Champion explained that judging would cover formal attire, modeling, personality, and the answer to a judge's question. Self introductions followed as each contestant came on stage. The four judges were then introduced, together with Kohler, the Judges Foreman. Judges were Syni Champion, a former Ms. Senior Culver City; Jim B. Clarke, councilman and former mayor; Sandy Erkus, Ms. Senior Oregon 2010 and talent winner at the 2014 Ms. Senior California state pageant; and Albert Vera, owner of Sorrento Market, provider of lunch for the contestants. A graceful dance to "Little Grass Shack" was then performed by Marcia Zadian, Ms. Senior Culver City 2013, transporting everyone to the islands despite the absence of drinks with little umbrellas. And now it was time for the nine Fan-tastics to model while their bios were read by Champion and McAskill, and then answer a judge's question. We learned that Beverly Barr, the first contestant, teaches international folk dancing and line dancing, and worked for California State Fund Worker's Compensation Insurance for 34 years. Sharon Hyland-Elstein, a member of the center for 13 years, is a cancer survivor and volunteers for American Cancer Society. She and her husband have a large blended family that includes multiple races and religions. Natalia Espinosa likes to make people happy, loves to paint, has five grandchildren she adores, and many friends. She gets particular pleasure from bringing joy into the lives of seniors. Cathy Kaufman's interests are traveling, theatre, reading and walking. Her hobbies include beach going, crossword puzzles, card playing and window shopping because she "can window shop all day and it doesn't cost a dime."Joan Kopin was a teacher and enjoys dancing, learning science, gardening and meeting people.

Marie Lafayette taught Realtors at Merrill Lynch and Bizzy Blondes, taught for 30 years in South Central Los Angeles, and especially enjoys the center's Saturday dances. Lorrie Maynard, a former teacher, loves using her skills to teach her two grandchildren. She enjoys performing, word games, and dancing Saturday afternoons to the music of the big bands. Deborah McMahon is known as the "hug doctor" as she believes in the power of hugs. She holds three master's degrees from Indiana University, has writing, radio and television experience, and is pursuing acting.Annie Wilson, who is at the center three times a week, holds a BA from Cal State. For over 50 years she has been active in the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Santa Monica. Susan Cashman, a former Broadway "My Fair Lady" star, then magnificently sang "I Could Have Danced All Night."Door prizes followed, courtesy of La Panache beauty salon, Culver Flowers (which also provided flowers for the winner), and various individuals. Mansson then emphasized her desire that senior women be seen, heard and valued, as their life experience enhances the community, and shared her experiences this past year, She participated in Fiesta La Ballona in August and loved riding in a classic car at the centennial parade in September. During the disabled kids carnival at the senior center in October (an event cosponsored by CCSCA and CulverCity Exchange Club), she pitched in and worked in the kitchen. In November she appeared with the Sensational Ladies in a show at the center to honor veterans. December found her helping out at the Teen Center, assisting in packaging items for underprivileged families. Following her talk, Mansson performed a terrific tap routine to "Puttin' on the Ritz."This lady has legs! The Fan-tastics returned to the stage and McAskill announced the result of their noontime vote for the elegant lady they believed had been the most helpful and friendly during the past two days. And McMahon became Ms. Congeniality.

The three top winners were then proclaimed, with third place going to Wilson, second to Kopin, and first to McMahon who, when interviewed later, opened with, "I'm in shock, I've never won anything!"But on this day she won two door prizes, Ms. Congeniality, and Ms. Culver City Elegance 2017. "I want to represent the power of older women," she said. "Their wisdom is golden, and I have always had a sense of deep respect for my elders."McMahon hopes to coalesce the contestants into a team to serve the community, and plans to approach the center about holding a series of mini seminars about subjects such as homeopathy to expose members to different ideas and opportunities. She is a marriage and family therapist, a homeopath, an Agape spiritual practitioner, a Feldenkrais practitioner, and a B.E.S.T. Elite Master. Feldenkrais is a form of neuromuscular reeducation, and B.E.S.T. stands for Bio-Energetic Synchronization Technique. McMahon demonstrated her flexibility by easily doing a full squat and added that she "ran 25 L.A. marathons in a row without training, the last being when I was 60. Now I do Zumba several times a week and go to the Saturday dances and all the parties here. I love to have fun and I want to inspire others to have fun and be healthy."Fan-tastic!


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