South Hadley woman crowned Ms. Massachusetts Senior America

  • Ms. Massachusetts Senior America winner Irene Szlosek-Lemieux, center, poses with first runner-up Elaine Sincavage, left, and second runner-up Dorrie Alderman Blakney. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Irene Szlosek-Lemieux is the newly crowned Ms. Massachusetts Sen-ior America. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 7/16/2019 11:43:15 PM

Six women over the age of 60 took the stage Sunday at Holyoke High School to celebrate the beauty of their later years at the Ms. Massachusetts Senior America pageant.

Irene Szlosek-Lemieux, 77, of South Hadley, was crowned Ms. Massachusetts Senior America 2019. She said she was “still numb” with gratitude and excitement when she spoke to the Gazette the night after her win.

“We’re still alive at our age!” Szlosek-Lemieux said. Still, her first thought when she was named winner was, “Oh my god, me? I’m too old!”

Ms. Senior America pageants ditch the swimsuit portion typical of other pageants to focus on inner beauty as women enter what organizers call the “Age of Elegance.” Pageants run by the nonprofit organization take place across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Contestants are judged based on a private five-minute interview with a panel of judges, a talent performance, their ability to show off elegant gowns and a 35-second life philosophy statement.

Szlosek-Lemieux’s win means she will be among the 35 to 50 preliminary winners to compete this October in the national Ms. Senior America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In 1965, Szlosek-Lemieux was the first Miss Ludlow to compete in the Miss Massachusetts pageant, a preliminary of the Miss America Pageant, but she says her experience with Ms. Massachusetts Senior America has been unique.

“In comparison [to other pageants], there’s so much more help here,” Szlosek-Lemieux said. “The women want the best for you. They want you to shine.”

The support of pageant organizers helped her push through nerve-wracking situations, including when her earring broke before she went onstage to perform “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic” for her talent performance.

Szlozek-Lemieux shared the stage with Dori Alderman Blakney of South Hadley, Lynne Koontz of Chicopee, Ann Walsh of Hampden, Annette Harris Davis of Springfield and Elaine Sincavage of Quincy. The reigning Ms. Senior America, Gayle Novak of Colorado, performed her winning act: a rendition of “Money, Money, Money” from the Broadway musical and film “Mamma Mia!”

“It’s a sisterhood,” Szlozek-Lemieux said. She looks up to women like Novak and last year’s Ms. Massachusetts Senior America Marcia Morrison for their leadership, she said.

Before the pageant, rehearsals were held every Wednesday at the Holyoke Senior Center starting in late April. Joanne Impoco, the pageant’s contestant coordinator, producer and director, said that because contestants commuted from different Massachusetts communities, there were only four rehearsals where everyone was present.

“We bring them up,” Impoco said, explaining that she, pageant coordinator Lorraine Gorham and their team worked closely with contestants to develop their acts.

Szlosek-Lemieux took up singing with the Springfield Symphony Choir about two years ago after she was widowed and said she knew she wanted to sing for the talent portion of the competition. She said the organizers helped her choose “My Heart Will Go On” and coordinate how the song would be performed.

Szlosek-Lemieux will soon begin preparations for the national pageant. With help from Impaco, Gorham and their team, Szlosek-Lemieux will explore musical numbers to perform for the talent portion, be drilled on interview questions and pick a new look — pageant producers are kicking in $500 toward a gown.

Gorham, a 12-year veteran of the Ms. Massachusetts Senior America pageant, has high hopes for Szlosek-Lemieux.

“I  have a strong feeling she could go all the way,” she said.

 Correction: Szlosek-Lemieux will compete in the national Ms. Senior America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey in October. 

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