By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Wearing her black and green pageant gown, Ava Genung sits at the dining room table of her elegant Scottsdale home in awe.
She still can’t believe she was crowned Ms. Senior Arizona the previous week at Valley Vista Performing Arts Center in Surprise.
“It’s still so surreal,” she says with her wide smile. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The Ms. Senior Arizona Pageant honors the “Age of Elegance,” accentuating the motivation and inspiration given by senior women, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. The contestants must be age 60 and older and are judged in four categories: philosophy of life, judges’ interview, evening gown presentation and talent.
“We learn from each of our ladies the value of perseverance, integrity, humor and love, to name just a few of the principles and qualities to live by,” says Herme Sherry, the pageant’s organizer.
Genung also took the top talent award for her jazz dance to a Motown medley; most photogenic and best philosophy of life.
Her court is first runner up Connie Snyder of Chino Valley; second runner up Judy Ramsay of Sun City West; third runner up Annie Wall of Sun City West; and fourth runner up Jean Ingrum of Mesa.
Snyder was named most elegant, while Dale Chanaiwa of Phoenix was called most inspirational. Autumn Montgomery of Surprise took home Ms. Congeniality; and Barbara Snyder of Sun City was Ms. Moxy.
Proceeds from the event benefit domestic violence survivors, as the pageant is produced by The Cameo Foundation.
“This group of women is absolutely amazing,” Genung says. “There was no competition. We supported one another. We loved one another. We encouraged one another.
“There was no drama. It was like a party together. It was really wonderful. I would hope anybody who would even consider going forward with entering would go forward with it. It’s an amazing experience.”
The 2019 pageant was Genung’s third try at Ms. Senior Arizona.
“The third time’s a charm,” Genung says with a laugh.
Genung will travel to Atlantic City to compete in the Ms. Senior America Pageant on October 20.
Genung was born in Chicago, but moved to Arizona when her father, a Motorola employee, was transferred to the Valley. After studying at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale and the University of Arizona, Genung and her husband lived in Idaho, San Diego and Alaska.
“Our best friends were moving back up to Alaska and asked us to join them,” she says. “We just took a leap of faith and moved there. The girls were 1 and 3 and we moved up to Prince of Wales Island to an Indian village of 300 people. We taught there for two years.”
They eventually returned to Tucson because they missed their family. Her husband, Herb, they have two daughters, Jacque and Jennifer, and four grandchildren. Preston, Paxton, Blake and Lily.
Calling herself 90% retired, Genung is an adjunct professor at Arizona Christian University. She supervises student teachers, providing professional development for educators across the country.
Genung has been dancing since she was in the first grade. She slowed down after having hip surgery.
“You don’t see high kicks and splits from me any longer,” she says with a laugh.
“I know my mother—she’s up in heaven—is probably thinking all those dance lessons finally paid off. I was just cleaning out a drawer in our laundry room the other day and in the drawer was the costume of my very first dance.”
Fast forward to 2019 and her dancing has paid off. Still, nerves almost got the better of her.
“We were sitting in the audience waiting for our turn, and one girl turns to me and she goes, ‘Are you scared?’ I said, ‘You don’t ever get rid of the jitters.’
“But there was no reason to because the girls were so supportive and loving. I came home and I told my husband, ‘I have a new tribe of women because these women are the types who are not afraid to put themselves out there, to be risk takers, and they’re loving Christian women.”
Genung will spend the next 12 months promoting Ms. Senior Arizona by participating in parades, traveling throughout the state and making special appearances.
Genung says the pageant made its point.
“These are people who will encourage me and motivate me,” she says. “These are the kinds of women I want to spend my time with.”