Lynn Shaw-Hayes of Vernonia was named the 2021 My Fair Lady Queen at the pageant on Wednesday, July 14.
Shaw-Hayes volunteers with the Master Gardeners program, Vernonia's community garden, the free lunch program during the summers, and the senior center's thrift store.
"My husband and I spend many hours in Vernonia's community garden," Shaw-Hayes said at the pageant. "That's definitely my favorite place. … He comes along because I make him."
Shaw-Hayes said they were able to donate 350 pounds of produce to the local food bank last year. They've donated 84 pounds so far this year and are hoping to top last year's numbers.
Shaw-Hayes retired from her job as an elementary school teacher in Vernonia in 2016, after more than 30 years.
After being crowned queen, Shaw-Hayes said she was shocked at the outcome.
"But boy, am I humbled and so thrilled," she said.
At the pageant for senior women in Columbia County, each contestant was asked what is their favorite age so far.
"That's easy," Shaw-Hayes said. "Today is my favorite age."
She added, "I am so blessed. As I look out in the audience, I see my family and my friends. I've got my handsome husband behind me. And best of all, today I am a princess."
The other contestants agreed that their lives had improved as they aged.
Renee Swartz, representing Clatskanie, said that her 40s were terrible, but things picked up when she turned 50.
Swartz struggled earlier in life, raising her two sons on her own, but she benefited from the volunteers and nonprofits who helped her in her time of need. Now, she's grateful to be on the other side, giving her time to help others.
"Having been told she couldn't have children, Renee's most treasured memories are the births of her two sons," the pageant presenters said.
Rosemary Scandale, representing Rainier, said that each milestone has seemed like the best year at the time, but her current age of 78 is the best. At 13, she was excited to be a teenager — though her brother told her she would turn into a boy when she turned 14. At 25, she moved to New York, where she met her husband and got married.
"When I was 13, all I had was 13," Scandale explained. "But now that I'm 78, I have 13, I have 21, I have 25 … I have all those years, and I've stored them right here in my heart. This is my favorite age."
"My favorite age is right now," Roberta Leuer, representing St. Helens, said. "I never imagined at 80 that I was going to be a princess."
Leuer was born in St. Helens but lived all across the United States before returning home in 2012. She said that there are only four states that she hasn't been to: the Dakotas, Montana and Hawaii. Her goal is to check those off her list in the next 10 years, before she hits 90.
Leuer started a senior center when she lived in New York and has since volunteered with the St. Helens senior center, City Club in Scappoose and the Sauerkraut Festival.
"I grew up with my grandparents (and) my parents teaching my sisters and I to volunteer," Leuer said. "So I have done a little bit of everything."
Alice Long, representing Scappoose, has volunteered with numerous church programs over the years, including doing fellowship worship at local nursing homes. Whenever she was in between jobs, Long would visit the nearest food pantry to see if they could use any help.
The princesses were asked about their most rewarding volunteer experiences.
"Working with individuals on a one-to-one basis has to be my most rewarding," Long said.
Scandale, who rescues pot-bellied pigs, said that she once received a "tiny, 15-pound, emaciated, angry" pig. The morning after she got him, she suited up in layer upon layer of her heaviest clothing and grabbed a rubber dish to use as a shield. The little pig charged at her again and again. She stayed out there for hours each day, for three days, then started to push back with her shield.
"I confused him because I didn't hit him, I didn't yell at him … I just very gently backed him up with that heavy dish. And by the fifth day, he wasn't attacking anymore," Scandale said. "By the time I was finished with him, I was able to return him back to the rescue. He was adopted. He was the gentlest sweetheart of a pig they ever had."
Swartz said that volunteering at the senior center in Clatskanie, there was a man who would always come in and demand his lunch at noon on the dot. After a few weeks, Swartz sat down at the table with him and told him that she thought he was intimidating but a nice man and that she wanted to sit and chat with him.
"He was just like a teddy bear after that," Swartz said. After that, the two would sit together to drink coffee and play games or do puzzles.
Long was also asked about her biggest accomplishment, outside of volunteer work. With her husband Richard, Long sailed from Oregon to the southwestern point of Puerto Rico.
"Just learning how to steer the boat was a great accomplishment," Long said. "Managing to miss another sailboat was even a greater accomplishment."
The annual My Fair Lady court is made up of one senior woman representing each of Columbia County's five largest cities: Scappoose, St. Helens, Vernonia, Rainier and Clatskanie.
The 2019 My Fair Lady court — which served two years because the 2020 pageant was canceled — scored the contestants and crowned the queen.
The four princesses and the queen will represent Columbia County RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) at events throughout the year.
Queen Patti Younts of Clatskanie crowned the new queen on the first day of the Columbia County Fair.
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