Sarah Booker gently wiped away the tears with her lace-gloved hand.
The 88-year-old resident at Fairview Skilled Nursing Rehabilitation Center doesn't ordinarily wear white lace gloves, but this was a special occasion.
The tears came after she was crowned My Fair Lady in a contest at the Lucas County Fair. Mrs. Booker was one of seven candidates who competed for the title in the long-running contest that includes being interviewed by a panel of judges at a tea at Elizabeth Scott Community in June and by entertainer Eddie Boggs at the ceremony during fair week.
According to Kay Stenzel, fair board director who is chairman of the contest, this was the 29th year for the contest that honors women who reside in nursing homes, extended-care facilities, assisted-living centers, or retirement centers, or who are members of a senior center. They must be 75 years old or older and are nominated as candidates by the administrator at their residence.
The two runners-up, like Mrs. Booker, also received sparkling crowns and bouquets of flowers. They are Rose Marie Benjamin, a resident of the Whitehouse Country Manor, and Mary Rose Rohr, who resides at Oakleaf Village.
The other candidates and their residences are Ruthie Appling, Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek; Mary Lou Vanderploeg, Elizabeth Scott Community; Betty Krasner, Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek, and Marjorie Horn, Fairview Skilled Nursing Rehabilitation Center.
Personal attributes, life achievement, and personality were the judging considerations.
Mrs. Booker's heart-warming life story began when her mother died when she was a year old and her father raised the six children. After graduation from Scott High School in 1943, her goal was to become a nurse after hearing President Roosevelt say the United States needed nurses. Caregivers at Fairview praise Mrs. Booker for her patriotism.
After being denied entrance into nursing programs at local hospitals, she went on to study education and received a master of education degree at the University of Toledo. Despite a full life and world travels as a member of Women Speak Out, a United Nations program, she remained diligent working to change the segregation rules that she says kept her from entry into nursing school.
According to Mrs. Booker, her niece Mary Gregory was the first African-American to be admitted to the nursing program at what was then St. Vincent Hospital. Mrs. Gregory attended the ceremony.
Mrs. Booker continues to want to learn and has this sage advice for teachers: "Those who wish to teach, should never cease to learn."
The seniors in their 80s and 90s handled their stage performances with dignity, grace, and assuredness, even when Mr. Boggs interjected jokes in his discussions with each candidate.
The veteran northwest Ohio entertainer has served many years as master of ceremonies. When he is asked in his travels what his favorite "gig" is, he always says the My Fair Lady contest back home in Maumee.
"They have everything I wish the world would be again," Mr. Boggs said, referring to the candidates. "There is a common thread that runs between them. They still have the values that made this country great: God, family, responsibility, and patriotism.
"They each have had full lives that have been about others, not themselves. New generations have not picked up on those values," he said.
The candidates expressed the importance of their families during their 10-minute interviews with the judges and with Mr. Boggs. Many family members were in the audience, shouting and applauding when their grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, or neighbor was introduced.
Mrs. Appling's large cheering section included her great-grandchildren, Emily and Zach Bella of Blissfield, who waved "We Love Ruthie" signs when she was introduced.
Lucas is said to be the only county fair that holds a My Fair Lady contest. Mrs. Stenzel is hopeful that neighboring county fair directors will initiate a similar program for fair week in 2013.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org