Seniors Vie For 'Miss Alabama Nursing Home' Title

Originally published on July 26, 2011 5:46 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Move over, "Toddlers and Tiaras." Take a seat, Miss Universe. Meet the newest beauty queen on the scene.

BOB COKER: And our new 2011 Miss Alabama Nursing Home is Ms. Andalusia Manor.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

NORRIS: Yesterday, in Birmingham, 75 contestants from the retirement set went wheelchair to walker for the title of Miss Alabama Nursing Home, and reporter Brigid Elsken Galloway explains how they're redefining what it means to be a beauty queen.

BRIGID ELSKEN GALLOWAY: Word is Felma Schrimshire is the one to beat. She's worldly, wise and poised. From her appearance and sharp wit, you'd never guess she's 100 years old. Dressed in a creamy gold trim suit, she looks like a Southern queen mom. So what's her secret to aging gracefully?

FELMA SCHRIMSHIRE: The Lord has blessed me with good health. I come through cancer, and he just blessed me.

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: So you're just not going to tell us what your beauty secrets are, is that it?

SCHRIMSHIRE: Well, I don't have any.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHRIMSHIRE: I don't even have time to primp.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: Alabama is one of a handful of states that hosts these annual elder pageants. They acknowledge the contributions both past and present of the residents.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: From the laughter and smiles, it's clear that win or lose, this pageant is a unique experience that participants and their friends and family members look forward to.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: In the greenroom, 90-year-old Bess Smitherman holds court. You can tell she means business because her tiara is a good two inches higher than anyone else's. Already, she's become accustomed to the prima donna lifestyle of a beauty queen.

BESS SMITHERMAN: I had prayed by day and night I'm going to gain 20 pounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: Yeah. You got to keep your girlish figure if you're in the pageant.

SMITHERMAN: Oh, yeah, of course. I might as well keep it. Nobody else wants it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: Smitherman's sassy style helped her capture first runner-up. Felma Schrimshire, indeed, wins the crown. The pageant's oldest contestant, Mary Lois Shannon, placed fourth. The 101-year-old doesn't seem a bit disappointed about not winning.

MARY LOIS SHANNON: Oh, I'd go for the top next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOIS SHANNON: We're going to get the top next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELSKEN GALLOWAY: Ever the optimist, she rejoins her proud family to plot her strategy for taking the crown next year. For NPR News, I'm Brigid Elsken Galloway in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.