By Stacey Dresner
On Feb. 13, an audience at the Fairfield Senior Center was entertained by Ruth Harcovitz, performing “A Musical Valentine: Love Songs in Many Different Styles.” But Harcovitz is no ordinary performer – she wears the crown of Ms. Connecticut Senior America 2013-2014.
In October, Harcovitz was a top ten finalist in the 33rd annual Ms. Senior America pageant, held in Atlantic City. Harcovitz was one of 34 contestants in a pageant that celebrates women who have “reached the age of excellence” – i.e., who are all over the age of 60.
Actually a resident of Needham, Mass., Harcovitz was first runner-up in the Ms. Massachusetts Senior America pageant in 2012, losing the top spot by one point. Members of the Connecticut Cameo Club – consisting of past pageant winners and contestants – attended that pageant and approached Harcovitz afterward with an intriguing offer.
“They said, ‘We are not planning on having a pageant this year; however, we are allowed to invite somebody to be our candidate at large. Become Ms. Connecticut and represent Connecticut in the national pageant in Atlantic City in October, and we will pay your expenses for you to go.’ So I said, ‘That sounds pretty good!’”
In April 2013, the Connecticut Cameo Club held a coronation ceremony in Enfield where Harcovitz formally became Ms. Connecticut Senior America.
Harcovitz said that this often happens in the Ms. Senior America pageant. Of the 34 contestants in 2013, only about one-third of them actually won pageants in their states and the others were candidates-at-large like Harcovitz, for states who did not run their own pageants. Despite her Massachusetts address, Harcovitz said she has Connecticut connections -– extended family members reside in Madison, Clinton, Branford, Hartford and Wethersfield.
The Ms. Senior America pageant is organized by the Miss America organization and is based on the Miss America model with competition areas in talent, evening gown, and an off-stage judges’ interview. The “lifestyle and fitness” competition — or the swimsuit competition in the Miss America pageant — has been replaced with “philosophy of life” which each state representative presented.
Harcovitz’s philosophy, which she called “Jewish in tone,” is a positive one: “Wake up each day with a song in your heart: a song of joy for all your blessings. When adversity comes your way, accentuate the positive. Open your hearts, open your minds, be as generous as you can. Make the world a better place everyday, for the best of times is now!”
Indeed, Harcovitz does have a song in her heart. For her talent portion, Harcovitz, a classically-trained soprano, sang her rendition of the Strauss waltz, “The Voices of Spring.” A graduate of New England Conservatory, she has sung with the Santa Fe Opera, Artists Internationale, Opera New England, and has performed and recorded with the Boston Symphony both in Boston’s Symphony Hall and at Carnegie Hall. She has sung in musicals, summer stock, dinner theater, and with numerous musical theater reviews.
Harcovitz’s very first beauty pageant title many years ago was Miss Millis in her Massachusetts hometown. She also served as Miss Brockton and Miss Boston. She competed three times with those crowns in the Miss Massachuetts Pageant.
All of that pageant experience has come in handy. As a singing teacher with her own studio, she has worked for many years with pageant contestants on their singing talent. She coached Miss Boston 2010 Ashley Rizzo and was the singing teacher for Peg O’Brien, Miss Massachusetts 1984, who went on that year to make the Top 10 and win the talent competition in the Miss America Pageant. Harcovitz is now promoting herself as a pageant trainer on her website ruthharcovitz.com.
Harcovitz began competing in beauty pageants again herself in 2012 when a woman approached her when she was performing at a senior center in Wilbraham, Mass. The woman, another former Miss Massachusetts Senior America, asked Harcovitz if she had ever heard of the senior pageant, telling her that she would be a good pageant candidate. “I thought, why not? I still sing and I still have the figure I had when I was Miss Boston. I thought it would be a lot of fun,” she recalled.
While she lost out in the Massaschusetts pageant by one point, that did not deter her from competing again once she had the Connecticut title. The national pageant in Atlantic City was a wonderful experience, she said.
“The ladies were very nice. First of all, I have never been with so many beautiful women in all my life,” she said. “They were all very gracious, warm and friendly. A lot of these women are accomplished professionals in other fields and perform as an avocation. There were some exceptional contestants.” Some of the most interesting contestants, she said, were Miss Georgia, an aerial gymnast who came on stage walking on her hands and then did an ariel routine in the air holding onto two curtains; and Miss Louisiana — in her 90s — who was a longtime schoolteacher who had retired in her 60s, wrote four novels in her 70s, and in her 80s traveled all over the world. The winner of the national pageant, Ms. Tennessee, was a former back-up singer for The Charlie Daniels Band for many years.
“The function of this pageant is to highlight the accomplishments of older women, and to serve as a role model to women of all ages as to what women can accomplish,” she said.
Now besides teaching singing and coaching pageant contestants, Harcovitz, a member of Temple Israel in Boston and cantorial soloist there, is in what she calls her “post-operatic career” performing lighter music programs like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jewish Composers on Broadway and April in Paris at venues like the Fairfield Senior Center. She has also begun an anti-bullying program for schools based on the lessons taught in the musicals from Rodgers & Hammerstein.
But come October 2014, she will be going to Atlantic City to compete in the Ms. Senior America pageant under a new title — Ms. Vermont, after being asked to run as contestant-at-large for that state. She said she can’t wait to compete again and to meet her talented competitors.
“These women are all comfortable with themselves,” she said. “They don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and yet they choose to compete, just because it is a unique experience.”
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