Mrs. from Juneau wins Miss Congeniality

Alaska-America pageant bestows honor on local mother, state worker

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2007

A few months ago, Juneau state worker Lola Savatgy received an e-mail from a Mrs. Alaska-America pageant official who had seen her photo.

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Savatgy thought it was a joke.

First of all, the picture was old and she hadn't been on a stage in years. Second, she'd never heard of Mrs. Alaska-America, one of three pageants in the state for married women.

"I told her no thanks. I'm not interested," Savatgy said. "I had just moved into my new house. I have a 3-year-old boy. I just got a new job. My husband is taking command (in the U.S. Coast Guard).

"But she was a very persistent pageant lady, and I'm glad that she was."

Savatgy, 37, eventually decided to represent Juneau in the 2007 Mrs. Alaska-America Pageant, held July 5 at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She was the first Juneau contestant in the 30-year history of the pageant.

The appropriately-named Happy Glorioso, of Eagle River, won the crown. Savatgy didn't place but was named "Miss Congeniality." Sitka contestant K.C. Merrill finished in the top five.

The 18 contestants included a bush pilot, a bodybuilder, a fine arts director, a stay-at-home mom, an engineer and an Army wife. The youngest was 22. The oldest was a 63-year-old grandmother.

Three had lost more than 100 pounds to compete. One, from a village in the Bush, had never worn makeup before, had five kids and had known her husband since they were both 3.

"It was just the coolest bunch of women," Savatgy said. "These are some beautiful women. I'm not kidding you."

"People were saying, 'You be careful. Those pageant people are killers. They'll knock you down to grab the crown,'" she said. "But everyone was just really nice."

Savatgy isn't shy about public speaking.

An ex-showgirl, she has extensive experience in theater and performing. She began starring in small dance shows when she was 17 and eventually joined a touring version of the Ice Capades.

"Of course I wanted the tiara," Savatgy said. "I wanted the crown. It's every girl's dream.

"I wanted to get back on stage and see if I could still do it," she said. "I went here because I missed the spotlight a little bit. It's in my blood. That's what I was hoping to get out of it."

Savatgy and her husband, David, moved back to Juneau in April. She works as a research analyst for the child care program of the state division of public assistance. He's a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard.

They lived here from 2000 to 2003, when she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Alaska Southeast.

In between Juneau stints, they lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an analyst at the Pentagon.

The Savatgys attended the same high school in California and eventually reunited. Next month will mark their 14th anniversary.

"Although we're from a very large city in California, we have a 3-year-old son born in Virginia and we wanted to raise him (in Juneau)," Savatgy said. "We've never felt like any place was home like Alaska. I have friends here that welcomed me right back as if I had only been gone a day."

Most contestants at the pageant were from Eagle River, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. It costs $450 to enter, and in the case of Savatgy, much more to fly north, stay in a hotel and rent a car.

Savatgy raised most of her $2,400 bill with the help of friends, family and Juneau businesses.

"At one point I said, 'I can't do it. My son is potty training. This is not happening,'" Savatgy said. "My husband was my No. 1 supporter. He said, 'You're beautiful and you need to do this.'"

All Mrs. Alaska-America contestants must be married a minimum of six months, be a U.S. citizen, an Alaska resident and at least 18.

Alaska has pageants for Mrs. Alaska-America, Mrs. Alaska-United States and Mrs. Alaska-International. They're three separate organizations. You can enter all three of them, but you can't hold all three titles.

Michelle Martin, the 2007 Mrs. Alaska-America, entered the pageant three times before she finally won. During her reign, Martin raised roughly $1 million for cancer research.

"Mrs. America is the original married lady pageant that's been around for years," Alaska-America pageant director Rita Corwin said. "Mrs. United States is the copycat program that a lady came up with 20 years ago.

"In Alaska, there is no pageant other than Mrs. Alaska-America that's an on-stage sanctioned program by the state," she said.

"I don't know the difference between the three, but I know I'm done," Savatgy said. "My feet hurt from standing 16 to 24 hours in high heels.

"I told them I'll come back up there and do the choreography and help, but it almost killed me to hold still on stage," she said.

The pageant began with a grueling one-on-one interview with each of five judges. The judges asked about the oil pipeline services company VECO, the Pebble Mine, the state flower, the state bird, domestic violence, the Alaska senators in the U.S. Congress, and of course, about each contestant's platform.

Savatgy's platform was child care, especially its effect on single mothers.

"Some of the questions were completely thought-provoking, and I was glad that I've loved and studied Alaska as much as I have," Savatgy said. "When you think of pageants, you think of three little kids prancing around the stage. Who would have guessed?"

After the interviews, the 18 contestants performed an opening number in cocktail dresses. Savatgy bought hers at Foxfire.

They introduced themselves, then transitioned to the sportswear category. Savatgy wore running gear from Foggy Mountain Shop.

Glorioso, the eventual champ, came out in a walking suit while pushing a baby carriage. The bodybuilder emerged dressed in hip waders and carrying a fishing pole.

The final segment was evening wear.

"I've said it before: They were judging me by my inner beauty," Savatgy said. "Not just the fact that I could put eyelashes on and curl my hair the right way."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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