CULLMAN, Ala. – Ms. Senior Alabama Donna Harris and Ms. Senior Cullman County Phyllis Hain are representing not only our amazing senior community but reminding everyone that grace, intelligence, strength, faith and hard work are what makes these Cullman County women exceptional. Being gorgeous is just a bonus as these two ladies travel the state and country as two of Cullman’s loveliest ambassadors.
Harris recently returned from Las Vegas where she competed in the Ms. Senior USA pageant and Hain will soon compete for Ms. Senior Alabama, the title currently held by Harris. Harris and Hain recently stopped by the Tribune to talk about their experiences.
Harris has been involved in pageants since high school. She said, “I was Ms. Wallace College in 1975 and then the third runner up in Ms. Senior USA.”
She had a great time competing in the national pageant recently. Harris recalled, “It was a week-long event and they had every minute of the day planned for us. We went to shows, we went to practices of all kinds, we went to showgirl boot camp. We learned how to dance like a showgirl with the big head things on.” Harris and the other contestants also attended a gangster-themed ball as well as other fun activities.
She continued, “preliminaries were on Friday but they didn’t announce the winners until Saturday. We had to have a talent and a costume. You have to represent your state in some type of costume so I came up with an astronaut costume. Then we had the evening gown competition and then I played the piano for my talent.”
Of all the fun activities and experiences, the most impactful was meeting the other women. She explained, “It was so fun and there were so many amazing accomplished women who had written books and so many things. We were treated like queens. One of the reasons I wanted to be in the pageant to begin with. I have lots of friends but they are a lot younger than me or they are a lot older than me. That was my goal, to meet women my age.”
Phyllis Hain hadn’t been in pageants prior to winning the Ms. Senior Cullman County. She said, “I’ve done a lot of things in the past with modeling and with prep work and stuff like that but I’ve never done pageants. It was out from left field when I had some people nominate me to run for Ms. Cullman. I was very honored and very flattered that they would think of me and asked me to do that. I was totally out of my comfort zone but they talked me into it.”
She laughed, “The only thing that comes close to it is I think in the sixth grade I was maid of honor for the May Day Queen.”
Hain continued, “I just never did see or consider my talents of being an artist and I’m a published author too but those are quieter type talents. Those aren’t really stage performing talents so it was a big challenge for me to turn that into a talent to be able to talk about my story. I’ve written an autobiography called “Diamond in the Dark” and I took an excerpt from that story and connected it to some of my art I’ve done and I created a dramatic presentation. Good, bad or indifferent that was representative of who I am and the talents that I have.”
The ladies also shared some funny moments from their pageant experiences. Harris recalled an awkward moment when she played at the Cullman pageant, “I had on a dress with long sleeves and they opened the curtain too quick and the piano wasn’t ready. The bench was way over here and the piano was being rolled out, I was helping, and they opened the curtains. I sat down really quick and I sat on my sleeve. I went to start playing and when I went up here, my arm didn’t go up. I did recover though.” Hain points out, “I suppose the lesson learned is not to wear something too drapey or flowy.”
Both Harris and Hain take their roles seriously and are proud to represent Cullman County and the State of Alabama. Hain said, “One of the things I’m most proud of is I was born in Sampson, Alabama and I was actually born on my grandfather’s farm. This is an opportunity for me, my husband joined the Rotary when we got up here, and we have learned so much about the agricultural industry and poultry farms and cattle association since we’ve been here. I just find it such an honor, where I came from and now representing the farmers and agricultural industry. We love living here and being here, coming from Pensacola. Coming back here is like coming back to roots for me and representing grassroots people.”
Harris adds, “I grew up IN the chicken house and cattle farming. I have no memory of NOT being in the chick house. I remember being so little and struggling with the water hose to keep it in the water jugs. So, we worked in the chicken house every day. We worked cattle every day. So, it’s a big honor for me too. In the Ms. Alabama pageant, I said, ‘From the county that’s number one in poultry I’m Donna Harris from Cullman, Alabama.’ I’m very honored to come from a chicken house to be able to represent women over 60. I’ve always wanted to tell women that our worth is not defined by the date on our birth certificate. We are over 60, we aren’t ready to roll over and die. I work every day. I’m learning new things. I’m learning a new language. We are never too old to learn and broaden our horizons.”
Hain was reminded of some wonderful memories as Harris recalled her childhood on the chicken farm. Hain remembers fondly of being allowed to ride her grandfather’s mules each day from the field back to the barn. She said, “I loved my grandfather so very much. It was a good thing.”
“It’s wonderful because I didn’t really know Donna’s background but I think two little country girls who came from the country and grew up loving this state and loving the people and just wanting to be good Christian women are representing the state,” Hain said.
When not competing in pageants, these fabulous ladies stay busy giving back to their communities in other ways. When Hain was 62, she and her husband adopted a 5-month-old little girl. Their daughter is 7 now and attends Sacred Heart School.
“She is just the joy of my life and has changed the trajectory for me from what I thought I would be doing to now loving, caring and raising a child. She is a delight. It’s a challenge and I can tell you it’s presented things every day that I didn’t realize how hard it would be at this age to raise a child. She blessed us because she is such a beautiful and wonderful child. That makes it much easier.”
Hain is also busy considering an art project. She works with a children’s mission charity organization in Uganda to sponsor children to provide educational opportunities. Hain explained that in Uganda, education is only available to those who can pay so through the sponsorships the organization can provide the opportunity to go to school, school supplies, clothing, food and medical supplies.
Harris works full-time for cardiologists in Birmingham. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. The most challenging both mentally and physically at my age because I never sit down. I run constantly. We put a long probe down the throat to the heart. I run constantly,” Harris said. “That’s her beauty secret!” Hain added.
As Hain prepares for the upcoming Ms. Senior Alabama at the end of July, Harris’s reign will come to an end but the friendships and relationships will continue. She looks forward to remaining involved and hopefully passing her title to her new friend Phyllis Hain. “This gives us an opportunity to think about the good things and this dress up thing is just too cool. We all have problems so this gives us a chance to think of the beautiful things in life and the things we are blessed with.”