THIS SUMMER, around the time the reigning Miss Minnesota—the aptly named Tiffany Ogle—was making a public appearance at the Hutchinson Jaycee Water Carnival, Shirley Lockwood, Ms. Senior Minnesota, was homebound in her Bloomington condo, recovering from hip replacement surgery. Both Ogle and Lockwood are blonde, with dazzling smiles and excellent singing voices. Only one admits to having tried Botox.
The Ms. Senior Minnesota pageant is an affiliate of Ms. Senior America, a national competition that began in 1971 to honor “women who have reached the ‘Age of Elegance.’” Like other showcases of beauty, aptitude, and poise, the Ms. Senior Minnesota pageant includes interviews, evening gowns, and talent presentations—though at no point do contestants strut around wearing swimsuits and high heels.
Lockwood, who will turn 80 this October, competed against women who were young enough to be her daughter (she has three grown children) and earned her crown with a 30-second philosophy of life based on the lyrics to “The Best of Times Is Now” (made famous in La Cage aux Folles) and a stunning performance of “Look to the Rainbow” from Finian’s Rainbow. After a yearlong reign that had her riding in parades and singing at nursing homes, Lockwood will pass on her tiara at this year’s Ms. Senior competition, which takes place September 19 at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel.
For Lockwood, it all comes back to the New Fogey Follies, a Minneapolis-based senior theater group she sings with that performs musical comedies of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Through the Follies she met her husband (former WCCO weatherman Bud Kraehling, who was making a guest appearance with the troupe) and got the idea to try out for Ms. Senior Minnesota. bbLockwood hasn’t always been so keen on pageants. When her mother and voice teacher encouraged her to enter the Miss America contest, the teenage Lockwood flatly refused. But at age 28, about a year after giving birth to twins, she decided to enter the Mrs. South Dakota competition—and ended up winning. “I thought it was cheap to walk around in a bathing suit,” Lockwood says. “Then after I got married, it seemed okay.”
Lockwood describes the Ms. Senior pageant as “challenging,” particularly because she had to compete against her friend from the New Fogey Follies, Lois Jech, a talented dancer. “I remember she said, ‘I wish you weren’t in the competition,’” Lockwood recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, I wish you weren’t in the competition.’” Jech took the title of second runner-up and, fortunately, the two have become even closer since the pageant. “You go into these things because you hope that you can win,” Lockwood says. “Of course, if you don’t win, you’re big girls—you don’t fall apart like the younger people would.”
Lockwood is a classically trained singer and former voice teacher, and one of her favorite parts of the Ms. Senior Minnesota role is performing as a soloist a few times a month, mainly for senior groups. Presently, she’s working up George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” thought she’s not sure she’ll get the chance to play the coy chanteuse. “I don’t know where I could sing it because it’s kind of risqué,” she says.
Kraehling, a public figure in his own right, has been amicably sharing the spotlight with his wife. “Right after I’d won Ms. Senior Minnesota, someone came up to me and asked what it felt like to be married to a celebrity,” Lockwood remembers. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.