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A reluctant contestant now Utah’s Ms. Senior Sweetheart

Retired professor of music surprised at winning pageant

SHARE A reluctant contestant now Utah’s Ms. Senior Sweetheart

It wasn't exactly Atlantic City. In fact it was the dayroom at the Friendship Manor assisted living center, adorned with plastic lilacs. And 10 of the 14 contestants practically had to be begged into entering.

Still, the first Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant, held Friday afternoon, was full of suspense and surprises. And nobody was more surprised than Beverly Decker Adams, who was crowned Ms. Senior Sweetheart. Next fall she'll represent Utah in the national Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant.

Adams was one of the reluctant contestants. "I was just filler," said Adams about why she agreed to enter at the last minute. She had no illusions about winning, she says, and she was concerned that entering meant that "it looks like you think you're a beauty queen."

Which, in fact, she now is.

Adams is also a retired musicology professor and the first woman to play organ recitals in the LDS Tabernacle.

This is the first time Utah has held a Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant, a 22-year-old event begun in Fall River, Mass., by a businessman and kazoo player named Len Kaplan. Kaplan's goal is to eventually take the Ms. Senior Sweetheart contest to national television. This year's national pageant is the first one to include women from all 50 states.

Contestants must be at least 59 to enter. The 14 contestants from Friendship Manor included three 90-year-olds and five women in their 80s. Adams was, at 74, one of the younger contestants.

The only other time she entered a pageant, she confided, was when she tried out for Mrs. Utah in the early 1960s. She never made it past the first round of judges, though, because one of the requirements was that each contestant had to iron their husband's shirts. It was a timed event, Adams explains, and she just couldn't iron fast enough. In fact, she says, she never really ironed her husband's shirts. But she did raise four children and got a Ph.D. in musicology.

Adams taught in the graduate school at the University of Utah and at BYU for 22 years. She quit two years ago, she says, only because the art books and CDs just got too heavy to carry around. Adams is a Fellow in the American Guild of Organists, studied in Europe twice, and did a stint as the organ recitalist at the Hyde Park LDS Chapel in London. She is also president and CEO of Allegro Management Corp.

Unlike Adams, contestant Flossie Mae Nipko actually won the Mrs. Utah contest in 1960. "All we had to do was make a cake and a refrigerated dessert," she remembers.

Other contestants at the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant of Utah included Fern Glad, who once flew crop dusters in Oregon; Dorothy Gilbert, who recently received the Utah "Good Drivers Award" for driving 70 years without a ticket or an accident; and Wendy Williams, who hosted a nightly radio show on Armed Forces Radio in Korea during the Korean War. Williams, who is "69 and 3/4," tied for runner up Friday with Gina Harrison, 90.

Entrants in Friday's event had to walk the length of the day room, then answer one of five questions posed to them several days before the pageant. "I'm glad there's no bathing suit competition," confided Harrison, as she waited for the pageant to begin.

There was also no evening gown competition, nor any talent segment. The national competition, though, does include a talent competition ("of all exciting types," according to the pageant's Web page) and an "old fashioned" swim suit competition.

Adams says she'll spend the next four months before the pageant practicing the piano and trying to look good in that bathing suit.

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com