Dr. Syntha West, Carol Swanson, Marilyn Rich-Johnson, JuneAnn Brown and Jo Anne McMeans, all 60-plus, are examples of what it means to age gracefully. With Dr. West at the helm, this group of women is active in senior pageants and performances, most notably, the Ms. Texas Senior America Pageant.
The Tyler Roses explained that the contest is about older women displaying their “pizzazz and charm.”
They aim to change the perception of senior women. Forever gone is the image of older women sitting in their rocking chairs and knitting, the women say. Today's senior woman is all about embracing her age with dignity while gaining wisdom and encouraging others.
The pageant champions healthy aging, wellness and mental well being. Each year, only 25 women across the state are invited to participate, and each of the Tyler Roses has had multiple appearances in the contest.
The most recent pageant occurred last month, in which Mrs. Swanson walked away with the Ms. Congeniality Award.
The women are quick to point out these pageants are not filled with fluff. They aren't parading around for applause. The Tyler Roses, along with other women, are redefining today's senior woman.
The pageant includes an interview with judges, evening gown, talent and a philosophy of life.
The women say to have family watch them on stage, complete with lighting and sound, is a phenomenal feeling.
The Tyler Roses also meet up with other women who participate in senior pageants in the Cameo Club. Out of this meeting, they circulate in the community to perform at nursing homes and other venues.
A common denominator among these seniors is that they volunteer their time, as well as talents, to make others happy.
“The purpose is to get out and about and to get into nursing homes and retirement centers and so we entertain so we can have this positive aging,” Dr. West said. “That's the purpose.”
The group selected their name to reflect Tyler's prized flower.
“We like to bloom,” Mrs. Brown said. “We like to bloom where we're planted. The Tyler rose was just so conducive to that.”
Mrs. Swanson added, “Each of these women makes us better. They contribute so much to our lives, just knowing them.”
The recruiter: Dr. Syntha West, 73
“At 73, I'm still twirling with the Baylor band and majorettes at halftime,” she said. “God has blessed me with many talents… God says if you use your talents they'll multiply. If you bury them, they'll dissipate.”
Before she began competing in pageants in 2005, she hadn't given the activity a thought. But since then, Dr. West has had 125 performances around Texas.
“The first year, I thought I'd like to see what it was all about,” she recounted. “As it progressed, I started getting encouragement to come back. Every year I made it a new challenge. In my third year, I'd put it all together.”
Dr. West has clogged and twirled in talent portions of pageants. She's the most celebrated of the Tyler Roses, having won Ms. Texas Senior America in 2008 and recruiting the Roses, as well as others, into the world of senior pageantry.
She also won Ms. Congeniality in 2006 and was first runner up in 2007.
A grandmother to six and a counselor who works with custody cases, Dr. West has been a mentor for other women her age.
Her philosophy of life is that the “glass is half full.” Also a book author and motivational speaker, she emphasizes making every day purposeful, challenging the mind and soul, believe in a higher being, family, love and community involvement.
The Comedienne: Carol swanson, 65
Mrs. Swanson is a Jill-of-all-trades. By day, she's a substitute teacher at Chapel Hill High School. In her spare time, she volunteers, performs comedy skits and wows her grandchildren and students with a Soulja Boy dance, modeled after a popular dance from a 2007 rap song.
“I want to keep this group laughing,” she said. “We just have fun.”
She emulates youthfulness but also personifies what it truly means to age gracefully. And she doesn't take her blessings for granted, as she faces some medical issues each day.
“I take it one day at a time,” she said. “When I get up I say, 'God, thank you for another day."
Mrs. Swanson has a long list of volunteer work, including Tyler Rescue Ministries, Smith County Extension Education Association, East Texas Medical Center Cancer Survivor Camp and Steelworkers Retirees of America.
She's volunteered for 45 years and last year, she won the Mary Frances Hansen Community Service Award at the Ms. Texas Senior America pageant.
“I believe in giving back to the community,” she said.
The Dreamer: Marilyn Rich-Johnson, 68
Texas Senior America for three years. She hasn't won any awards, but she glows when she speaks of the experience.
“I feel like a winner every time I do it just because I'm in it,” she said.
Two of her children were involved in pageants when they were young, so she always saw it as a kids' event. She didn't imagine doing one as an adult, let alone as a senior. The contests allow her to step into the spotlight and show her personality.
“It's sort of like a dream come true for me,” she said. “I've always been a dreamer.”
The former teachers' aide, who has dreamed of becoming a photojournalist is now busy caring for her grandchildren.
The Charmer: JuneAnn brown, 65
The grandmother of six and great-grandmother of one skipped this year's Ms. Texas Senior America but will be back at it in 2013.
She embraces the youthfulness that senior women seem to be exuding today. She's not sure when it happened, but she's sure that women are taking notes from each other.
“I've noticed that every year the seniors get younger and younger,” she said. “I think our perception came from television and movies. We saw that the older women were looking better, they took care of themselves and they were active. You didn't have to get old anymore.”
The Fit Dancer: Jo Anne McMeans, 67
Last year, she was first runner up in the Ms. Texas Senior America Pageant. The events have been a boost to her confidence.
“Overall the most important thing that I have experienced is personal growth and self esteem, opportunity to share my philosophy and my Christian testimony with others; to grow in poise and to recognize that I still have so much to offer in redefining the senior woman,” she said.
Mrs. McMeans urges women to be their best which includes taking care of their bodies while they are still young.
“Because when we get a little older, our bodies will take care of us,” she said.
She's very active and fitness is one of her priorities, behind her religious faith and family. She and her husband work out with a trainer, which keeps her healthy and slim. During this year's pageant, she surprised her unsuspecting husband in the audience by modeling her original wedding gown from 50 years ago.
She loves to put on an apron and bake cookies for her 11 grandchildren, but she can also play rough with them. Her liveliness has her grandchildren calling her “The Gramminator.”
“They know if they hop the fence and get away from me that I can hop the fence and catch up with them,” she said.
Mrs. McMeans speaks highly of her Tyler Roses, particularly, Dr. West.
“She's not only a fabulous recruiter but she's also an awesome mentor,” she said.
The group has been more than enthusiastic women who gather for pageants, dancing and skits. It has been a family.
“They've helped me through two family deaths,” she said. “It's a tightly knit sisterhood. When our family was bereaved, both times, they were there.”