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Bemidji resident is Ms. Senior America

BEMIDJI -- There will be no missing Ms. Senior America 2007 Linda Wagner when she's grocery shopping, servicing the car, teaching school or engaged in any number of day-to-day activities.

BEMIDJI -- There will be no missing Ms. Senior America 2007 Linda Wagner when she's grocery shopping, servicing the car, teaching school or engaged in any number of day-to-day activities.

Wagner's royal status will be obvious from her Ms. Senior America sash and crown.

"It's suggested I always have my crown and banner on when I'm out in public because it creates curiosity," said Wagner, 61, Bemidji.

Part of Wagner's duties as Ms. Senior America is to promote the program and encourage women 60 and older to make the most of their challenges and opportunities.

"There are a lot of women this age who are very talented," she said.


Although Wagner, 61, of Bemidji, admits she might skip the tiara and sash when she throws on jeans and a sweatshirt for a quick trip to the supermarket, she said she takes her new duties seriously.

"I'm starting to feel as if I have to dress up all the time," she said during a Monday interview in her Cass Lake-Bena (Minn.) Elementary School music classroom where she has taught for 20 years. And she will wear the crown to school for at least a few days because the children are so excited about their teacher's success, she said.

The students have asked if the crown is real, and she always tell them it is a real crown, but not real diamonds, she said. After being crowned Ms. Senior Minnesota 2007 on Sept. 17 at the Senior Expo at Mystic Lake Casino, Wagner traveled to Las Vegas, Nev., last week to compete for the U.S. title.

Accompanied by Bemidji pianist Abe Hunter, Wagner performed the aria "Juliette's Waltz" from Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" for the talent portion of the competition. The pageant also featured an evening gown portion and a brief philosophy statement. Thirty-four women competed.

The second, third and fourth runners-up also performed vocal numbers, while Ms. Senior South Carolina presented a dramatic recitation of the origin of bugle piece, "Taps."

"The very best thing of the whole experience was meeting the other contestants," Wagner said. "They were all so talented and beautiful. They all had their stories."

Wagner said the contest offered no Ms. Congeniality prize, but all the contestants were totally congenial with each other throughout the week of competition.

Now, Wagner must begin her formal duties. This weekend she will travel to Omaha, Neb., for an appearance with Holiday Retirement Corp., a sponsor of the Ms. Senior America pageant. And the following weekend, she will grace a float in the Atlantic City, N.J., Thanksgiving Day parade.


Throughout the year, she will appear at the various states' Ms. Senior contests. She also plans to work with organizers in South Dakota and Iowa states that didn't send a contestant to the Ms. Senior America pageant.

"Beyond that, I don't know exactly what I'm going to be asked to do," she said.

She said her husband, Bob, bought a tuxedo for the Las Vegas event and will get plenty of use out of his new formal wear accompanying her to Ms. Senior America functions.

She added that one of the pageant organizers told her to consider her Ms. Senior America position as a full-time job. However, Wagner said she used up her personal days off from teaching last week and doesn't want to miss too much school. She said Saturday night after the crowning was amazing.

"It took me an hour to get to my (hotel) room; everybody was stopping me," she said. "I've had so many compliments for my part in the pageant."

Especially touching, she said, were the people who asked her if they could pray for her.

Wagner, who directs the Bemidji United Methodist Church choir and is an adjunct music instructor at Bemidji State University, began her musical training when she was 7. Her early experiences were in school and church choirs. Alice Collins remembers leading Wagner in the children's choir at First United Methodist Church in Rochester.

"She was so cute," Collins said.


"The very first time I remember singing in public was in second grade in a Christmas program," Wagner said. "I was Mrs. Santa Claus. I still remember the song."

Since then, Wagner has performed major roles in musical, oratorio and opera productions in Minnesota, Texas, New York, Berlin, Germany, and Bangkok, Thailand. She is a Schubert Club competition winner and first-place winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Minnesota.

She and Bob have been married for 38 years and enjoy tandem biking, running and skiing together. They have three daughters, one grandson and a second grandchild due to arrive in January.

"I just hope I can continue to be a good teacher and a good choir director and a good Ms. Senior America," Wagner said.

The Bemidji Pioneer and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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