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GECC 2013 Pageant crowns new winner

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Resident Vera Craft, 80 answers questions for the Master of Ceremonies Jay Dennard beside escort Dylan Phillips during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday. Craft was crowned Ms. GECC.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Resident Vera Craft, 80 answers questions for the Master of Ceremonies Jay Dennard beside escort Dylan Phillips during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday. Craft was crowned Ms. GECC.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan GECC resident Vera Craft, 80 is congratulated by family Natasha Croft and Harper Croft, 1, after being crowned "Ms. GECC" beside her escort Dylan Phillips during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday. Phillips is a member of the ROTC at North Gwinnett High School.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Patient Care Tech's Rezia Adaire, right, Radikha Persaud, center, and Nicole Grammont react to a contestants answers during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Contestant Helen Beckner, 82, shows her excitement during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday. Beckner was named 1st runner-up Ms. GECC.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Four woman contestants answer questions from Master of Ceremonies Jay Dennard in front of a panel of judges during the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan GECC residents look on as their fellow residents compete in the 12th annual Ms. GECC "Queens of the Sea" Pageant at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville Thursday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- For one night, the Gwinnett Extended Care Center's dining room was transformed into a tropical paradise Thursday.

It wasn't because the employees and residents planned a stay-cation. It was for the 12th annual Ms. GECC Pageant, themed "Queens of the Sea."

"It's just such a pleasure to get to know these ladies," GECC Activity Director Rita Davis said. "You get to know the families and spend time with them during the three months of preparation. ... They'll tell you they want to do it because they get such good care here. We want to give back (to them)."

The room twinkled from the colorful streamers on the walls, the helium balloons and cut-out seashells, thanks to the help of the Gwinnett Hospital Systems Auxiliary's volunteers.

But the glamorous gals were the talk of the evening. Four women competed against each other to take the 2013 title, which included Reba Wade, 63, Helen Beckner, 82, Vera Craft, 80, and Betty Ann Shemaka, 84. Last year's winner Bunnie Nix, 94, was present to watch.

Each lady was interviewed twice by emcee Jay Dennard, the chief operating officer of Gwinnett Medical Center-Lawrenceville. This was vital to the competition because the judges were scoring for personality. This year's judges were Executive Vice President Thomas Shepherd, Senior Vice President Carol Danielson and Teen Miss Gwinnett County Mackenzie Ruiz.

Some of the stories told included throwing rocks at skinny dippers, waltzing with men on the roller rink and staying at Wayne Newton's hotel.

"I knew this year was going to be a little bit off the wall," Davis said. "Every year it's the next generation stepping up, so it's always a lot different. Sometimes we have to censor like they do on TV."

In between the interviews, Sherri Von Hagel sang classic tunes, including Etta James' "At Last" and Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable."

After 15 minutes of deliberation, the judges returned with a verdict. Most Zest for Life went to Wade, Best Sense of Humor was given to Shemaka and the first runner-up was Beckner, which meant Craft was crowned Ms. GECC 2013.

With her win, Craft represents GECC in the Ms. Georgia Nursing Home Pageant May 18 at Evergreen in Stone Mountain.