Senior Moment

Here's one little old lady who isn't afraid of the word "suck."

When Bert Parks sang "There she goes . . ." about Ms. Senior America, he might well have meant it. The contestants at this pageant are judged on beauty, poise and continence. Insert other cheesy old-lady-pageant joke of your choice here.

But seriously, folks, this Ms. Senior America stuff is the real deal. Just ask 64-year-old Herme Sherry, the reigning Ms. Senior Arizona. She's out to set the record straight about Grandma, and she just might change the editorial policy at the Arizona Republic while she's at it. She's a woman who isn't afraid of the word "suck," who's raised her kids and buried her mom, and now wants to help change the way we think about our oldsters.

Hours before she left to represent our fair state in the Ms. Senior America Pageant in Las Vegas -- a contest that doesn't offer a college scholarship as a prize, natch -- Sherry met with me in her gracious Scottsdale home to discuss her duties (grand marshaling the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk; performing song-and-dance routines at old folks' homes) and to put to rest those pesky rumors about backstage hair-pulling.

Herme Sherry is no shriveled-up granny.
courtesy of Ms. Senior Arizona
Herme Sherry is no shriveled-up granny.

The winner will be crowned Saturday, November 13.

New Times: Hey. Where's your tiara?

Herme Sherry: Oh, it's in a box in the other room. Do you want to see it?

NT: I was kidding. You really have a tiara?

Sherry: Yes. I don't wear it to the grocery store, but there have been people in the past who have. I wear it when I'm out speaking or performing. I went on a cruise that was part of my Ms. Senior Arizona prize, and I wore my sash and crown to dinner every night. It was fun.

NT: I'm guessing that part of the point here is to dispel the notion that all older women are shriveled-up grannies who sit in rockers and knit.

Sherry: That's exactly it. A lot of the young people I know came to the pageant because I was in it, and they were totally blown away. One of the guys said to me, "I never knew that ladies over 60 could be so vibrant and alive." A lot of people don't pay attention to the pageant because they think, "Oh, a bunch of old ladies in rocking chairs."

NT: Well, your logo does sort of scream "Grandma!" It's a cameo of a lady with her hair in a bun.

Sherry: But our slogan is "ladies of elegance." We don't have canes and walkers. Our performing group goes out there to the senior centers, and we get there, and the people have been waiting for hours, just waiting for someone to come see them.

NT: That's depressing as hell. You're a beauty queen, and you go visit your peers who've been shoved into homes --

Sherry: Just waiting for someone to come see them. I know. It is depressing, but I feel good that I can do something for them.

NT: You must feel even better that you didn't end up that way yourself.

Sherry: I do in a way, but it helps to know I can make a difference for them. It's an absolutely life-changing experience.

NT: So, apparently, is the Ms. Senior Arizona Pageant. I'm guessing there's no swimsuit competition.

Sherry: There's no swimsuits, and no wet tee shirts. Thirty percent [of your score is based] on judge's interview; 30 percent on talent; 20 percent on evening gown; and 20 percent on philosophy of life. Which I found to be the hardest part. First of all, you have to have a philosophy of life.

NT: That's a good start.

Sherry: Then you have to write it down and memorize it and say it in 35 seconds. Do you want to hear mine? It doesn't take long.

NT: I know. Thirty-five seconds. What's it about?

Sherry: How I think a smile can change someone's life.

NT: But there are things -- particularly as we get older -- that aren't worth smiling about. Memory loss, broken hips --

Sherry: All kinds of things. But as sad as that is, you can still find something in life to smile about.

NT: Like a beauty pageant for women over 60.

Sherry: And you know, it's one of the biggest pageants in the area. They draw between 2,000 and 3,000 people. But it gets less attention than anything. I was at Mrs. Arizona in June, and there wasn't probably 200 people there, but they got a two-page write-up in the Arizona Republic. And I had to wonder why it's so hard to get coverage for Ms. Senior Arizona, when we draw more people [than Mrs. Arizona].

NT: Maybe they draw fewer people because their pageant sucks.

Sherry: Well, it didn't suck. But I don't feel that the seniors get the coverage they need. When I was crowned, I got a little tiny article in the Republic. Something's not right here.

NT: Maybe you should make that part of your platform: to change the editorial policies at the Arizona Republic.

Sherry: I've been trying! I spoke to the Kiwanis Club about it, and one of the gentlemen came up to me and said his wife is a reporter for the Republic, and that he would have her call me. I've heard nothing.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help