Ms. Senior Universe
Embrace, Encourage, Empower
The road to Pageant Week in fabulous Las Vegas began across the country in New York City, where Pageant Director and Ms. Senior Universe 2019 Sherry Strother and Ms. Senior USA 2018-19 Cherie Kidd were the special guests of Mr. and Mrs. Claus and Your VIP Experience at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! On the way back to the North Pole, Mr. and Mrs. Claus left the queens at the Linq Experience, a Caesars Entertainment property, to kick off the third annual Ms. Senior Universe 2020! Most of the contestants arriving had already participated in their local Christmas and holiday parades, festivities and Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremonies. In Las Vegas, pageant members joined the USA Senior Softball Executive Director and Honorary Ms. Senior Universe, Fran Dowell, in a special Hall of Fame event. Finally, the ladies cheered on a record-breaking 6,000 Santas in the “Great Santa Run!” for charity.
The 2020 Ms. Senior Universe was themed, “The Cowboy Christmas—National Finals Rodeo” and adopted as its motto the catch phrase for 2020 United Nations International Women’s Day, “Embrace, Encourage, Empower!” As the ladies arrived for their thrilling Las Vegas week, they were treated to Christmas stockings filled with treats from sponsors, candies, jewelry and coupons for shopping opportunities.
Santa was good to his word as the weather was perfect to begin the week with an outdoor Queen’s Breakfast and orientation at the world-famous Maxie’s, a restaurant on the Linq Promenade, right under the shadow of the Big Wheel—the world’s largest Ferris wheel. While celebrating the 62nd wedding anniversary of Edward and Nancy Berhorst from France, Nancy was joined by the “Golden Ticket” finalists from both national pageant systems and international origins. Joanie Helgesen and Cherie Kidd represented the Ms. Senior USA system. Peggy Fowler represented the oldest senior pageant, Ms. Senior Sweetheart of America. Nicole Duffel represented the United States system. Marilyn Kohler represented the Senior America system. Rounding out the top ten from the Cayman Islands was Celina Dilbert, from the Philippines came Estelita Paulin, from Canada came Shelley Gish, and Italy was represented by Marianne Lucchesi (Hamilton).
Joining the finalists in attendance were the Pageant crew of the Founding Ms. Senior Universe, Kat Ray; Pageant Director, Sherry Strother (Ms. Senor Universe 2018-2019); Program Director and Emcee, Sara Jo Burks (Ms. Senior USA 2018 and Pageantry magazine 2019 cover); Pageant Book Director, Sally Beth Vick (Ms. Super Senior Universe 2018-2019); Ida White (Senior Sweetheart and Super Senior Virgin Islands); Myrna Motzer (Founding Senior California providing assistance with hair and make-up); Mari Lewis (current Ms. Senior California) and with daily pageant photography being provided by Gary Duffel. Four of the contestants were 74 years of age or older. Everyone was provided a folder of information they would need throughout the week.
Breakfast was followed by a special off-site trip to the Cowboy Christmas exhibition at the Rio Hotel Convention Center and then a “Queen-ager Pajammie” party in the Hospitality Suite. Later that evening, the pageant’s very special guest, Stacey Schieffelin, arrived from London to be officially welcomed as “one of the girls!” Stacey is the founder of the YBF line of products, a QVC and HSN television star, 2019 recipient of the Global Beauty Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, and founder of Women’s Leadership LIVE, with a reach of more than 350 million women across the globe. Unknown to Stacey, her husband David had arrived earlier to surprise her for their 25th Wedding Anniversary! Founding Queen Kat Ray joined Stacey and David as they participated in a very special renewal of their vows on the Las Vegas Strip.
Day Two was jam-packed with public meet-and-greets and appearances for the Queens, beginning with a tour of Opportunity Village, a special education center which works with adults who have Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, etc. to help them become as self-supporting and as independent as possible. The Queens toured the facility, met with the clients and were introduced to the “Magical Forest.” The Magical Forest is the largest fundraiser for Opportunity Village. The Queens were invited back that evening for the Military and First Responder Appreciation Night to decorate a tree. “Magical” is the only word to use when viewing the displays at night. The Queens gathered children from the public to participate and posed for hundreds of photo ops.
In between trips to Opportunity Village, the Queens went to Du Barry’s Fashions. Owned and operated by Rita David (former Miss Belgium Universe) and her husband Derek David (original member of the Platters), Du Barry’s Fashions is known the world over as “Bling and Gown Central,” if it has a crystal or rhinestone, it is likely to have a place in the store. After the tree decorating, Alan and Kathie Glist of Glist Entertainment celebrated the first meet and greet of the Senior Pageant Organization with a special showing of “Menopause the Musical!” Throughout all the activities, Stacey Schieffelin participated with the Queens, learned their history and came to appreciate the uniqueness of the senior pageant system.
The next day began rehearsals, round-robin interviews, sound checks, and problem solving due to a last-minute theater change. The celebrity judges for this pageant were Chief Judge and Auditor Karen Eastman, Sandy Kastel, Amie Jo Greer and Nina Ten. That evening, the Queens’ Dinner was held. The pageant works to find Las Vegas historical sites to host the ball. The queens have been to the Liberace Mansion, the Doumani Mansion, the Hart Mansion (Las Vegas home of Elvis Presley), and now the famous Harrah’s Steakhouse operated by Ruth’s Chris. The room was originally a boardroom for Harrah’s Entertainment, where twenty years earlier, a committee created the plans which transitioned the company into the world’s largest gaming entertainment organization, eventually acquiring the Caesars brand. One of the Senior Pageants Group founders was a member of that organizing committee and was photographed in that same room for the 1999 Corporate Annual Report.
The Finals of the 2020 Ms. Senior Universe Pageant were held at the Matt Franco Theater in the Linq Experience of Caesars Entertainment. After days of activities, rehearsals, preliminary competitions, and in a style only possible in Las Vegas, the Queens entered the theater stage in their costumes designed either with a theme from their recognized pageant system, or representing a nation. Applicants from across the globe had started the process, winding down to the “Golden Ticket” finalists arriving in Las Vegas. As the finalists waited patiently backstage for what would be their last walk of the pageant, each individually entered the stage in gown, approached the microphone and engaged the judges and audience by stating their individual “Philosophy of Life.” As the last of queens completed this phase of competition, the Queens entered as a group for their last Parade of Gowns before the announcement of the winners.
The announcements began with the presentation and crowning of Stacey Schieffelin as the World Leadership Ambassador! Special community service awards were then presented to the judges, as well as to Cherie Williams, president of the oldest all-women club in the country, and Ninon De la Rosa, a well-known television personality. The presentations continued with the Best Costume trophy being awarded to Estelita Paulin of the Philippines. The Best Talent trophy went to Celina Dilbert of the Cayman Islands. The Gown trophy went to Cherie Kidd of the USA. A Special Award created by Stacey Schieffelin, the World Leadership Ambassador, in recognition for dedication, commitment and grateful service to others, was awarded to Nancy Berhorst of France, who was also gifted a thousand-dollar scholarship from Women’s Leadership LIVE team. The Pageant then covered and reimbursed her costs for attending.
In the Senior (60-74) category, the Top Finalists were Marianne Lucchesi (Hamilton—Italy), Peggy Fowler (Senior Sweetheart), Celina Dilbert (Cayman Islands), with Cheri Kidd (USA) as second runner-up. The first runner-up was Shelley Gish (Canada), and Nicole Duffel (United States) was crowned as Ms. Senior Universe 2020. In the Super Senior (75+) and Grande Dame categories, Estelita Paulin (Philippines) was second runner-up, with Nancy Berhorst (France) as first runner-up and Joanie Helgesen (USA) being awarded the title of Ms. Super Senior Universe 2020. Marilyn Kohler (Senior America) was honored as a “Forever Queen” and awarded the golden sash as Ms. Grande Dame Universe for ladies 90 years of age and older. The three queens received a special prize package valued in excess of $5,000 each, along with travel and event appearances.
The original founders had a dream which became an amazing pageant, one which embraced and encouraged senior women to get back into the game and pick up those talents and dreams which were left behind many years ago. The founders then continued to empower those senior women by providing meaningful opportunities, normally not available in a pageant system, to recognize those goals and dreams. The 2020 motto, “Embrace, Encourage, Empower” is on the mark!
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