MARGATE – When her friend Becky Orsatti, Ms. New Jersey Senior America 2010, asked her to participate in the Ms. New Jersey Senior America Pageant several years ago, Margate’s Suzie Neustadter wasn’t old enough to compete. But after achieving her milestone 60th birthday, she decided to give it a go.
On Wednesday, June 6, Neustadter, now 61, was crowned Ms. New Jersey Senior America 2018, and will go on to compete in the national competition Oct. 18 at Resorts Hotel Casino in Atlantic City.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, but I thought it would be great to experience it as a contestant. It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday, June 13.
Neustadter said was sold on the idea after researching the organization and discovering it does a lot of philanthropic work, including visiting and entertaining senior citizens and veterans.
Neustadter said she was honored to compete with “such accomplished women doing great things in their communities.”
Born and raised in Atlantic City and Margate, Neustadter has been a professional singer since she was in college.
“I came back after college and started singing at the Rendezvous Lounge at Resorts International Hotel Casino in 1979 and I’ve been singing ever since,” she said.
She teaches voice lessons at her studio in Margate and conducted performing arts camps during the summer months in the Margate City schools for about 10 years, she said.
“Now, I coach kids as young as 10. My oldest student is 40,” she said.
As a vocal coach, Neustadter enjoyed seeing several of her students go on to compete in local and state pageants, and one of her students will soon be performing on Broadway.
“The students were very supportive when I told them about it. They said, ‘You should do it,’” she said.
She competed “with, not against” two other women from Atlantic County – Millie Tate of Linwood and Roxanne Terramagro of Egg Harbor City – and five other women from across New Jersey.
“They were all fabulous, well accomplished women,” she said.
The runners up were Geri Georger of Toms River, who came in fourth; Shiela Jackson of Atco, who placed third; Tate came in second; and first runner-up was Debra Canale of Medford.
The women were asked to share their philosophy of life and share their talent onstage at Harrah’s concert venue.
Neustader wowed the judges with her rendition of “Home” from the Broadway musical “The Wiz.”
It was a challenge fitting her philosophy on life into a 35-second speech, but she was able to condense it to share the importance of family, friends, working hard, going for your dreams and “living for the moment.” She managed to squeeze in “be kind to others” and accept people for who they are.
“After all, we are just one world,” she said.
The Miss America competition is a part of the culture of Atlantic City, and she is supportive of the organization’s recent elimination of the swimsuit competition because it has become “irrelevant in this day and age.”
“Of course, we didn’t have a swimsuit competition at our age,” she said. “If it did, I would not have said yes.”
She believes the public’s perception of the Miss America competition being just a beauty pageant is wrong because the contestants have more than physical beauty.
“They are smart, talented, goal oriented. The whole package.”
Although its origins are that of a beach beauty pageant, “I’ve always seen Miss America as a scholarship pageant,” she said. “But over the years the bathing suits did get teenie-weenie. I prefer a one-piece with a sarong, but then it turned into a fitness thing.”
Neustadter believes what makes someone physically beautiful is their “spirit,” she said.
“My mother always said, ‘Pretty is, what pretty does,’” she said. “Physical beauty comes from within.”
As a member of the organization’s Cameo Club, which is comprised of women who have won the title, she will visit seniors and veterans around the state. But, she said, she would like to work toward getting her younger students involved and make it more of “an intergenerational thing.”
She has already appeared at the Brandywine Estates senior facility near Princeton, where past winners, including Orsatti, sang and danced and mingled with the residents.
She is scheduled to appear in Cape May City and will be in the Galloway Township 4th of July Parade.
Neustadter will be showcasing her students when they perform at noon Saturday, June 30 at Margate’s Beachstock festival.
“But they asked me to wear my crown and sash,” she said.
She will also make an appearance at Lucy the Elephant’s 137th Birthday Party 3 p.m. Saturday, July 21.