Elisabeth Howard, Ms. Senior California, is crowned the new Ms. Senior America 2012 during Ms. Senior America Pageant at Harrah's Resort. On the left, Ventnor resident Carol Dugan placed fifth as Ms. Senior New Jersey.

Edward Lea

After the Ms. Senior America Pageant on Thursday, Ms. Senior New Jersey, Carol Dugan, of Ventnor, gathered with some new friends on stage singing “We Are Family.”

Dugan was fourth runner-up in the contest at the Concert Venue at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, but she was far from disappointed.

“It was unbelievable,” Dugan said. “I was so excited to be fourth runner-up, because the talent this year was remarkable. It was very, very over the top. More talent than most of the time. They were wonderful people, and I’ve never met so many talented elegant, beautiful, intelligent women. Being a part of this was a treasure.”

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Elisabeth Howard, Ms. California, from Topanga, received the Ms. Senior America sash under the spotlight. She walked the stage waving to the crowd while the Ms. Senior America theme song was played.

Ms. Senior America was founded in 1971, for women over the age of 60. Dugan is the third straight woman from Atlantic County to represent New Jersey in the pageant. In 2010, Rebecca Orsatti, and in 2011 Desiree Nigrelli, both of Atlantic City, represented the state.

Preliminaries were held Tuesday and Wednesday, with the pageant finals Thursday.

Dugan said that winning fourth runner-up was as enjoyable as meeting new people.

“A lot of these people, I will be communicating with for the rest of my life,” she said.

She became close friends with Ms. South Carolina in particular, with whom she had a lot in common.

“We really connected,” Dugan said. “We both play in bands with our husband. We both sail. We both are involved with fitness. I’m so thankful that I met all these wonderful people.”

When asked about her favorite moment she paused for a long time.

“They were all good moments actually,” she said. “I got so much wonderful support from my director and my husband and my family. ... There are so many favorite moments that I don’t even know. I’m so overwhelmed right now, I don’t know that I could even place that.”

She said she looks forward to representing New Jersey throughout the year.

The pageant was created to promote the positive aspects of aging. Winners are expected to volunteer in traditional community service organizations, but also with advocacy organizations such as municipal Senior Citizens Advisory Councils, the American Association of Retired Persons, and Elder Advocates.

Representing the pageant nationally will be Howard, who said she felt relatively confident when the winner was about to be announced Thursday.

“I did my best in the performance,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how it went. I thought I did well in the interview, but you never really know. I did my best in philosophy and the modeling. I thought, ‘Whatever happens happens.’ They go from 10 down to one. And once they got to only one spot left I thought, ‘I guess the the interview was really bad.’ But then they called my name and that changed it up.”

Howard is a vocal professor at Pepperdine University. She said she coached the woman who sang the part as Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” She also said she helped Sting with vocals before he reunited with The Police.

Her favorite moment during the pageant was singing “Sempre Libera,” an aria from Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.” She compared it to walking on a tight rope.

This is the first pageant she has been involved with.

“This pageant has been very good for me,” Howard said. “For starters I lost 30 pounds in the last two years when I first started doing the pageant. I got a new hairstyle that I’ve finally figured out what looks best on me. Before I would say hair is just there. I did curlers, but it always came out not shapely. I pay more attention to my make-up. I exercise everyday. It’s been great. I feel 100 times better.”

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