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'Don't cross us off as old ladies' | Kent County women hoping to win Ms. Senior Michigan

The pageant will be held on July 19 on the East Side of the state, giving two Grand Rapids area women a chance to do something they haven't done in quite awhile.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Mary Miller and Kathy Agee haven't had the chance to meet yet. But they're vying for the same crown, and their paths to get to that crown are somewhat similar. Both have signed up to be contestants in the Ms. Senior Michigan Pageant, and both will be singing on stage for the first time in quite awhile.

"I turned 60 recently and I was really not looking forward to that," said Kathy, who lives in the Sparta area.

"I think that's how this whole adventure kind of started. How do I make this fun? What is something I can look forward to, rather than going like 'I'm old'? I just thought this would be kind of a fun thing to look forward to."

Mary also had a recent birthday. She's now 72. She had previously lived in California where she had done some acting. When her mother passed away five years ago, she moved to Michigan to be with family. But she missed performing.

"I'd been antsy for a long time. I hadn't done anything in the industry, and hadn't sung in years. So this was kind of exciting, and so I decided to do it. Take a chance, enjoy it, and have fun," said Mary, who lives in Grand Rapids.

Kathy can relate to the itch of wanting to get back on stage.

"What I'm going to be doing is singing on stage, which I have not done since high school musicals, for 40 years. My husband and children have never seen me sing on stage," she said.

The pageant will take place on July 19 at the OPC Senior Center in Rochester. The contestants will be judged on talent, poise, an interview, and a life philosophy that cannot be any longer than 35 seconds.

"I think it's a way to acknowledge that senior women truly are treasures and resources, that we are experts in many fields, and that we can mentor, teach, guide, and support the next generation as they go through their issues and their careers," said Toni Sanchez-Murphy, who won the pageant in 2012 and currently serves as the event's president.

The winner of the pageant will go on to the Ms. Senior America Pageant, and will represent all senior women from the state of Michigan. They then are invited to parades and other events, where they promote causes close to their hearts.

"It gives us purpose, meaningfulness, a reason to not just retire from life."

Mary will be performing "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler. It's a tribute to a friend who passed away from cancer.

"I chose that song for that reason, as well as the wind beneath my wings has been God. I love her. She's in Heaven, and I know she's looking down," Mary said.

Kathy isn't sharing what she'll be singing in advance of the competition. However, she said she's looking forward to meeting the other women and also the former queens.

"Time and time again, when I talk to people they keep talking about this great sisterhood, because now you're meeting other people who are taking the risk of being in front of people and speaking and performing in front of people. And they're lifelong learners," Kathy said.

"That's the whole thing. Let's go and have fun. Let's be an inspiration. Let's see what we can show other people. There's stuff to do, it's a really vital time of life, and don't cross us off as old ladies."

Mary is also hoping she and Kathy, as well as the other contestants, can motivate others.

"I want the message to be strong for men and women, that whatever age you are, you can do anything you want to do. The sky is the limit. Eyes up, engage, and enjoy life," she said.

If you'd like to sign up for the pageant, there's still time. Applications must be sent in by June 17.

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