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Veteran of 1950s pageants is crowned Ms. Senior Utah

She now helps at senior centers, watches grandsons

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Joan Rosell took a Peggy Lee song, made it her own and knocked out the judges.

"I Enjoy Being a Woman" was Rosell's musical number for the talent portion of the Ms. Utah Senior Pageant Saturday at the Mt. Olympus Senior Center. The slim brunette was just a little tearful when mistress of ceremonies Doris Briscoe announced she was the winner.

"This was really nerve-racking," Rosell, 65, said.

It's been about four decades since she captured first place in a beauty pageant. During the 1950s, Rosell went from winning beauty contests in her native Midwest to adding more titles during her college years in Utah and while working as a dental office administrator in California.

She was the winner of the Miss Cleveland, Miss Ohio, Miss Hollywood, Miss BYU and "Miss Dreamgirl of Ohio, or something like that" pageants. Now a resident of Midvale, she volunteers at senior centers around the south valley and appears in TV commercials for Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

Rosell will go to Reno in October to compete in the Ms. Senior America Pageant — and during the coming year she'll wave from countless parade floats across Utah. The state competition for women 60 and older doesn't bestow any prize money, but the winner glides off the stage with a gold trophy, a rhinestone tiara and a long list of invitations to community events.

"I may be losing a baby sitter," said Rosell's son Bob. His two boys, 6-year-old Zander and 4-year-old Joran, seemed dazzled by their newly crowned grandmother, who beamed in her ice-blue sequined gown. "I don't think he (Joran) recognized me, all dressed up," Joan Rosell said.

As Ms. Utah Senior, Joan Rosell wants to spend the next 12 months visiting elder-care centers and talking with anyone who needs cheering up.

"I'm a cancer survivor, and I've had five other major surgeries," she said. "I'd like to help people with problems, not just with surgeries, but also anybody who's just feeling down. When you hear the word 'cancer,' you can get so depressed."

Ms. Utah Senior 1999, 62-year-old Carol Dee Peterson, turned her banner and crown over to Joan Rosell at 4 p.m. Saturday, after singing "Climb Every Mountain" for the crowd of 100 spectators. "Life isn't over at 60," Peterson said. "It just gets better."

When Joan Rosell arrived at the Ms. Senior Utah dinner Friday night, she recognized a friend from a former life. Jackie Fullmer, now of Logan, lived in Southern California during the 1950s — as did Joan Rosell. They performed together in musicals put on by their LDS ward in Los Angeles.

Fullmer, a tall blonde in an elegant black gown, was named the second runner-up; Madeline Dienhart of Sandy won first runner-up; and the group of 14 contestants voted Barbara Erickson of Farmington Ms. Congeniality. The pageant was the second annual statewide contest sponsored by the Utah Prime Times senior newsletter.

"It just sounded like a fun thing to do," Joan Rosell said. She didn't expect to catch the jitters. "Every one of us women was a disaster last night," Ms. Utah Senior 2000 said, looking as cool and elegant as her bouquet of long-stemmed roses.

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com