By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
Photos By René Green Photography
Esmeralda Ybarra Hetrick’s dark hair is perfectly coiffed and placed beneath her sparkling and glittering jeweled crown, her cherry red lipstick a perfect match to the long stem red roses she clutches. Flashing a beautiful bright smile, she waves to the audience in attendance at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City. On most Thursday afternoons, you’d most likely find Hetrick in Harrisburg, at her home which she shares with her husband and Dauphin County Coroner, Graham Hetrick, but this Thursday afternoon is different. She’s just been crowned Ms. Senior America 2019.
“Forty is definitely my lucky number,” says Hetrick, owner and publisher of La Voz Latina Central, a monthly bi-lingual publication, the first in the Harrisburg region to focus on the Latino community. “This was the 40th anniversary for the pageant, and I was contestant number 40,” she adds, while gesturing to her white satin sash that memorializes her newly achieved title in large block letters.
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”—age sixty and up.
“The oldest contestant was aged 80 years and she made it to the top 10,” says Hetrick.
The pageant featured a total of 42 national state queens. Hetrick, who was previously crowned Ms. Senior Pennsylvania, was judged in four categories over the course of the three-day pageant: interview, talent, evening gown, and philosophy of life. While the talent is the clear crowd-pleaser of the event, it’s the philosophy of life category that allows these women to achieve the kind of visibility that the pageant was founded on: “Seniors are the foundation of America, and our most valuable treasure.”
For her talent, Hetrick sang, “It’s My Turn,” a 1980 song used as the theme to the film of the same name and made famous by Dina Ross.
“I selected this song because it represents how I feel. It’s my time to use my knowledge, resources, talents, and abilities to give back to the community,” she adds.
Hetrick’s life philosophy statement for the pageant was: “Don’t be defined by your circumstances.” She says, “I truly believe that is the mindset that got me through my humble beginnings as a member of an immigrant family from Mexico, to where I am today.
“I am proud to be an American, and proud to represent the needs of seniors,” Hetrick states. “I am proud to have won. I still can’t believe it.”
Hetrick says all of the contestants had “energy, joy, and enthusiasm in spades.” She says, “They are doctors, dancers, actors, pianists, gymnast, actors and poets. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and widows. They are true queens, and I am so proud of all of them.”
This wasn’t the first pageant for Hetrick. An accomplished singer and performer who had her own band that once opened for comedian and impersonator, Rich Little, along with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Hetrick’s golden opportunity came in her senior year in high school when she was living in Galveston, Texas.
“In 1971, I was asked to be Miss Maritime Day. Then I represented Galveston in the Texas World Pageants of 1972 and 1973, and placed as first runner-up the second year,” says Hetrick. “Being involved in pageants definitely expanded my horizon.”
Hetrick also says she would recommend entering the Ms. Senior America Pageant for anyone in her age group. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and now I look forward to representing the needs and concerns of seniors throughout the nation.”
She adds, “I have spent decades listening and responding to the needs of my community. Now I can take those skills and services nationally because I have a song to sing and I have power behind my voice. Now it’s my turn to make a difference.”
This month Hetrick begins a year filled with extensive travel and personal appearances as part of her duties as 2019 Ms. Senior America. She’s already taped a segment on the Rachel Ray Show which will be aired sometime this month and is looking forward to helping state pageants select contestants to compete in the 2020 pageant. Locally, Hetrick also appeared on ABC’s Good Day PA in November.
“My message to seniors past 60 years of age: Don’t be defined by your circumstances. You’re the agent of change. If you have a dream in your heart pursue it,” adds Hetrick.