By JOANIE HELGESEN
Special to North Palm Beach Life
My name is Joanie Helgesen and I am Ms Sr Florida America 2007 and in the top 10 nationally, Ms Senior Founding Florida USA 2016 and in the Hall of Fame. I am also Ms Florida Super Senior USA 2018.
I've had a very exciting and varied life, starting with piano lessons at age 8, harp lessons at age 9 and at age 10, I started performing professionally with a harp. I performed solo in a concert hall on the piano and harp at age 10 in Wisconsin and was honored with high merit music achievement awards in the National Federation of Music Clubs, leading to winning a Music Scholarship to the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
A native of Madison, Wisconsin, my role model is my harp teacher, Margaret Rupp Cooper. I have known her since I was 9 years old and continued through college and after, when I continued to play professionally. She willed me her 1924 Steinway grand piano Model 0 when she passed away. I was very honored.
As a classically trained harpist, I have performed with symphonies in the Midwest and California, opera companies, harp ensembles and still perform as a soloist with my own arrangements.
Feeling adventurous, I moved to Palm Springs, Ca. to be more a part of the entertainment world, at the time knowing just two people. I lived there for seven years, made many friends and started taking tap dancing classes at age 58. I appeared in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,", "Sweet Charity" and "Anything Goes" at the Palm Canyon Theater. As a harpist, I performed at that same theater in "Desert Song,", "Camelot" and "Carnival."
While living in Palm Springs, I was known as "The Swan Lady." My community had 25 acres of water and seven swans. They were wandering around, starving, so I established a feeding program for them. I designed and built feeders, then had to catch and show the swans how to use them. I've been known to drive around the community with a couple of swans in my station wagon.
I moved to Florida when my daughter, Lisa, was expecting her first child. I auditioned for "The Florida Follies" and for 14 years have been a tap dancer, showgirl and harpist with them, retiring a year ago. I now do charity work on behalf of animals and people in need.
When I lived in Wisconsin, I had a lot of pets in a home on 350 acres: Eight Llamas, a white Sicilian Burro, a steer, a pony, two sheep, two goats, four exotic chickens, four dogs and a partridge in a pear tree.
I'm the proud mother of two daughters -- Kim, who lives in Wisconsin, and Lisa here in Florida. I have six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
I'm 78 years young and going to Las Vegas to compete in the Ms. Senior USA Pageant June 12-16. The contestants are judged on talent, philosophy of life, evening gown and the interview with the judges.
I got into the world of pageants via a friend. At my age I decided to "feel the fear" and go for it. In Las Vegas I will play my own arrangement of a piece on a harp. I'm preparing by practicing the harp every day, making sure I have the right gowns, reviewing my philosophy of life and keeping my weight down since I'll be wearing a swim suit as an example of what Florida represents. Imagine wearing a swim suit at age 78. How about that?
I call all of this "Joanie's Excellent Adventures." If we don't try, we won't know if we can do it, no matter what it is. In the future I hope to be a part of the pageant world in one way or another and to continue tap dancing to stay fit.
"I first met beautiful Joanie when she brought a rescue swan to my home that I adopted. I instantly adored Joanie. Her love and caring for all animals is quite admirable. She worked tirelessly in establishing a safe refuge for the swans at her country club and for many abused and neglected animals in our Palm Springs area. Whatever community Joanie lives in, she is always helping children, people and animals who are in need. Her beauty on the outside is only surpassed by her beauty inside. Joanie encompasses compassion, talent and beauty and is a true friend. I will be cheering for my amazing and charismatic friend at the Ms. Senior USA Pageant in Las Vegas. I am so very proud of Joanie." --Connie V.
"Have fun in Vegas and break a leg." --Lois G. The New Florida Follies.
"I have known and loved Joanie for years. She is amazing in too many ways to mention! She will be visiting me in La Quinta, Ca. before her competition, and this will be a fun filled few days! I have known her as the Swan Lady and the Harp Lady, but I know her most of all as an incredible friend that I have shared many adventures with. She is not only beautiful, but extremely talented, and I know she will do a fabulous job in Vegas!" -- Dorothy P.
"I have known Joanie since grade school back in Madison, Wisconsin and we have been friends all that time. Joanie has so many accomplishments you can write on paper, but I must add that she has a GREAT sense of humor and she has a great heart. You cannot buy those things. My mom loved Joanie too and loved it when we could all get together. She will be my forever friend." -- Susie U.
"Nice article. Good job." -- Beverly B.