Return of popular pageant gives residents, staff a much-needed lift
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
For the past two-plus years, as the COVID pandemic raged through similar facilities across the state and nation, residents and staff members of Atmore Nursing Center have had little to be happy about. That changed last Tuesday, May 10.
For the first time since 2019, ANC residents were able to get caught up in the grandeur of the Ms. Atmore Nursing Center Pageant, which had been held annually for years until the pandemic forced its temporary halt. And when the residents are happy, the staff is happy.
“It’s exciting for them; they really enjoy it,” said Deborah Thomas, a 31-year ANC employee who works in the activities department. “You should have seen how enthused they were when they heard we were going to have the pageant. It’s very uplifting for the staff, too. Everybody gets involved.”
There were smiles a’plenty, inside ANC’s Laurel Dining Hall, where the pageant took place, and up and down the nursing center’s halls. The dining hall was festooned with a backdrop of gold and white balloons, into which red roses had been worked. Gold string curtains completed the décor.
Administrator Morgan Smith said the four contestants — Ola Haughton, Jena Capps, Patricia Amon and Jody Carter — got a special dose of attention leading up to the pageant and the naming of this year’s winner.
“We have four participants, and they have sort of a full spa day,” she explained. “They get all dressed up, and our staff completely gets them ready — hair, nails, makeup, the whole nine yards.”
Smith also explained that the pageant brings another treat for the residents, especially those competing for the title.
“It’s been two years, and I’m very thankful to start this over again,” she said. “Families come to this every time, or our staff has taken a lot of them under their wings. Families mean so much to us; it’s a great thing to see.”
The administrator even played a couple tunes on the piano while the judges — Anna Ellis and Lisa Hagan of Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce — came up with their decisions, based on each contestant’s answer to a one-question interview, how each was dressed, and each one’s smile and personality.
Darlene Murphy, ANC’s Activities Director, was certainly happy that the pageant had been rebooted.
“It’s a big morale booster, and the four (contestants) we have are very competitive,” said Murphy, who has worked at ANC for 23 years and has been producing the pageant since 2006. “I’m loving every minute of it.”
The dining hall was mostly full by the time the judges returned to announce their choice for Ms. ANC, as well as for individual awards. On-duty staff members congregated at the doors until they were called to duty.
Finally, twin princesses Ella and Gracie Wall, daughters of ANC Admissions Coordinator Michelle Wall and Rick Wall, assisted by ANC staffer Nikki Cowan, handed out certificates, flowers and ribbons as the individual category winners were announced.
The judges designated Jody Carter (described as “six gallons of crazy in a 5-gallon bucket” as Miss Personality and awarded her the third runner-up slot. Patricia Amon (a huge Elvis Presley fan) was the second runner-up and won for best smile, and Jena Capps, a Facebook and TikTok enthusiast who judges felt gave the best answer during the interview, was first runner-up.
That left Ola Haughton of Brewton as the winner of this year’s pageant. Ms. Haughton, decked out in a hot pink dress and jacket, had earlier been ruled best dressed contestant. The room erupted in applause as the new Ms. ANC, who reportedly “won’t leave her room unless her jewelry and every hair is in place,” received her tiara.
Special recognition was given to another family connection, as Tevin McLain, an 8th-grade honor student at Escambia County Middle School and the son of ANC nurse Brittany Taylor and Don Taylor, handled most of the escort duties as the contestants entered and left the room.
There was also a historic moment, as a brief reflection on Ms. Ladorse Carter, who passed away in 2021 and was the last person to have won the title before Ms. Haughton, was remembered.
“She’s no longer with us, so we have a memory table,” Murphy said. “Ms. Carter was the winner in 2019, and we didn’t have a pageant the last two years, so she’s the longest reigning in history. She was Ms. ANC for three years because of the pandemic.”