A Merrick woman was crowned the 29th Ms. New York Senior America Sunday night at Hofstra University, as the first winner reflected on how the pageant and its contestants have changed since the first in 1985.
Jane Rubinstein, 62, became the latest recipient of a crown that celebrates aging through women's talents, abilities and how they positively present being 60 or older.
"I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I'm honored and humbled."
About 800 people attended.
Rubinstein said the talent competition was a challenge.
"It was way out of my comfort zone," said the winner, who danced solo to "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack, and displayed one of her paintings to seal the victory. "But I was inspired by the song." She said she usually dances with a partner.
Ethel Bennett, 91, who was crowned the first Ms. New York Senior America in 1985, said the pageant's contestants have changed over the years.
"Sixty is not what it used to be," Bennett said. "It's like today's 40."
Sunday, Bennett sat in anticipation as the pageant, held at Hofstra's John Cranford Adams Playhouse, was preparing to begin. This was the first time in four years Bennett, a former Long Island resident now living in Palm Beach, Fla., attended.
"When I won the crown, we did it upstate, in the Catskills," she said.
The night was special for her, because it was a tribute to her husband, Marvin Bennett, who died in February. Together, the couple founded the nonprofit Ms. New York Senior America Inc., which runs the pageant.
"We wanted this to be in honor and recognition for older women," she said.
The women were judged in four categories -- talent, philosophy of life, evening gown and a private interview with the judges.
"It was very difficult judging," said Donna Dean, 65, of Ronkonkoma. "They were all very lovely."
Rubinstein bested 13 others for the crown. She said she was inspired to compete after watching last year's pageant winner, Virginia Werner, of Bellerose, who was 65 at the time.
Rubinstein said she began dancing when she was 56, at Dance with Me, a studio in Glen Head.
"I just went to my favorite dance studio," she said. "The rest is history."