The Ms. Senior America Pageant is the world's first and foremost pageant to emphasize and give honor to women who have reached the "Age of Elegance." It is a search for the gracious lady who best exemplifies the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans. The Ms. Senior America philosophy is based upon the belief that seniors are the foundation of America, and our most valuable treasure. It is upon their knowledge, experience and resources that the younger generation has the opportunity to build a better society.
She's got pull in the pageant
Woman teams up with oxen for Ms. Senior America Miss New Hampshire Senior
By Ray Duckler/Monitor columnist
August 4, 2011
Kathy Salanitro cleans up well after a morning spent with gaseous cattle.
She comes in from her Gilford barn, fresh from pulling and feeding and brushing her four oxen, and slips into a long, form-fitting black gown.
She's petite and striking, with red hair and eyes that sparkle against the tiara she won for being named Ms. New Hampshire Senior America.
Like Clark Kent in a phone booth, Salanitro's look and image change in an instant, from headliner in American Cattlemen magazine to cover girl in Cosmopolitan.
"And it took only 15 minutes," says Salanitro, 65. "Not bad, right?"
Good enough, in fact, to earn a spot in the October Ms. Senior America pageant, a week-long spectacle for women at least 60, at Harrah's Resort Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.
And while logic says looks helped her win the state title, the talent Salanitro brought to the competition also played a major role.
Salanitro helps kids, some with troubled pasts, gain confidence through interactions with her oxen. She takes shy
kids, damaged kids, awkward kids, and patiently convinces them to feed her oxen alfalfa cubes or steer them using voice commands.
Don't worry that their tongues are nearly as long as some of the grade-school kids that visit them. And fear not that these animals are bigger than a Volkswagen.
Step right up and receive a dose of self esteem.
"A judge at the pageant walked up to me and said, 'Would you like to know why you won?' " Salanitro said. "He said it was because I was so confident and sincere in everything I did that he had to vote for me. That was easy to do. They're my little babies."
Her little babies - Dale, Max, Jake and Chip - each weighs 2,400 pounds, 300 less than full grown. They are oxen, or castrated bulls older than 4.
Have owned and raised oxen since they built their home and barn in Gilford 30 years ago.
They compete in ox pulling events all over New England, and they have the ribbons, dozens on a wall near the barn's entrance, to prove it. They also walk their oxen through streets during town parades.
Kathy's resume includes EMT, member of the ski patrol, first aid and aerobics instructor, and Red Cross board member.
But her oxen and work with children have defined her life the past two years. She figured out that giant farm animals can do more than just pull 11,000 pounds at a fair.
"They bring out their confidence and self respect and discipline," Salanitro says. "The children have to learn to work with the animals, so they can't get angry, they can't get upset, they have to stay calm. When they take the animal out and the animal doesn't want to listen, they have to learn that they must communicate. That's the problem some of these teens have; they don't communicate."
Salanitro tells about the little boy, bitten by a Rottweiler and terrified of animals, who patted, groomed and walked Chip up the driveway after spending an hour in the barn.
"He will remember that afternoon for a very long time," the boy's grandmother wrote in a letter to Salanitro. "I really couldn't believe he did as well as he did."
She has other stories, about the girl, nearly expelled from high school, who later began smiling in the hallways and then graduated college.
About the 8-year-old boy, the son of drug-addicted parents, who pinned himself against the barn wall in fear, but who that same day fed the oxen and later earned merit badges from a presentation in front of his scout troop.
Then, two years ago at a fair, a former senior pageant winner discovered that Salanitro was older than 60. She liked her unique hobby, and she asked her to enter.
"I said no," Salanitro said. "I didn't sing and I didn't dance. But she said that's why she wanted me."
This pageant, unlike others, promotes heart over hotties. Its mission statement says "it is a search for the gracious lady who best exemplifies the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans."
Those qualities came through last Sunday in Manchester, without glitter or fancy costumes. Salanitro just told the judges what she did for and with kids.
"I had a pair of jeans and a sweater and a blouse," Salanitro said. I had a DVD behind me and I talked about kids and my oxen."
She also walked in her black gown, down a different runway than the one she uses behind her barn. That one is made of soft dirt, sloped downward to a circular dirt path, where Salanitro trains her oxen with a plastic stick and stern commands.
"Hup!" for pull.
"Har!" for left turn.
The four oxen listen as well as any dog. They're hams, posing for the camera like Paris Hilton on this sunny day. Like a jealous child, Max places his head inches from Jake's, hoping to steal some of the brush strokes provided by Salanitro.
Salanitro's hair is pulled back by clips, and she's wearing tan shorts and high-top walking shoes. She's indifferent to the manure she's stepping in and the orchestra of loud bugling, coming from Jake's backside.
It is this contrast of two worlds, giant farm animals and elegance in a black gown, that Salanitro will put on display Oct. 2-7 at Harrah's in Atlantic City.
"I don't care if I win," Salanitro said. "I just want to get the message out to women that they don't have to know how to sing and dance. They can move forward if they have a passion to do something."
It's a dirty job.