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Mrs. Washington Pageant Celebrates Families, Moms

Fri., May 26, 1995

When organizers of the Mrs. Washington International Pageant say this year’s event is all about family, they mean it.

The contest, Saturday at 7 p.m. at The Met, features singing guest Kevin Hagen, who played Doc Baker in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series. The 1994 and 1992 Mrs. Washingtons will sing duets with their 3- and 5-year-old children. Even the contestants, seven of whom are from Spokane, will bring their husbands and children on stage with them.

“The whole theme is about family, marriage and American values,” says Connie Wagner, the pageant’s executive state director.

That’s why she thinks Hagen is the perfect celebrity guest. “‘Little House’ represented those things the years it ran on NBC,” Wagner says.

That association is one Hagen is eager to claim as his own. Now living in Oregon, he is retired from fulltime acting - although he does some theater work as well as occasional performances of his one-man show, “A Playful Dose of Prairie Wisdom.” Functions that promote family are important to him, partly because it’s something he wanted more of in his life.

“I raised a son as a single parent, and was an only son myself,” he says. “Maybe that’s why it means so much to me.” He says that gave him a special respect for the challenges faced by working moms.

“It’s more difficult these days to be a wife and homemaker, because that wife often has a job. It’s a tough thing.”

True to its family theme, the pageant is open to women age 24 to 54. It’s not a typical beauty contest - organizers are quick to point out that there’s no swimsuit competition. Judged categories are personal interview, aerobic wear and evening gown.

“You don’t get a lot people entering these that have been in pageants all their life,” says the reigning Mrs. Washington, Joleta McNelis of Gig Harbor. “But you see girls coming back and entering four years in a row, so obviously the whole event has got to be a positive experience or they wouldn’t come back.”

What kind of positive experience makes them want to return? McNelis think it’s recognition of the talents of married women as individuals.

“What was neat for me was having my family look at me in a different respect, not just as a mom but as a person with goals,” she says.

Hagen couldn’t agree more - and that’s why he sounds just as genuinely excited about the event as McNelis.

“A woman doesn’t cease to be attractive and glamorous after she’s married,” he says. “That kind of woman should be recognized and celebrated.”

Contestants include Christine Leva, Cari Bickley, Lisa Anderson, Robin Peterson, Mari-Priscilla Frus, Carisa Dam and Lisa Cortes, all from Spokane and Andrea Hardy from Walla Walla.

xxxx Mrs. Washington International Pageant Location and time: The Met, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $12, $7.50 for seniors and children 12 and under

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