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Zephyrhills woman wins 'Today' show's Kentucky Derby Homemade Hat Contest

ZEPHYRHILLS — You'd never guess that contraption on Lee Edwards' head started as a model of the solar system.

But with enough pink feathers, plastic horses and ingenuity, the model provided the perfect base for the Kentucky Derby hat crafted by Mrs. Edwards' daughter-in-law.

"She … took off the planets and put horses in their places," said Mrs. Edwards, 71. "It was all motorized with batteries and a switch, so you could make the horses run" around a centerpiece of feathers, horse pictures and juniper.

The 3-foot-tall creation edged out hundreds of other fancy hats around the country to win the Today show's Kentucky Derby Homemade Hat Contest. Mrs. Edwards and her husband, Joe, got an all-expenses-paid trip last weekend to Churchill Downs for the big race.

"My daughter-in-law watched the announcement of the contest winners on April 26, when (Today co-host) Hoda Kotb announced that 'Lee Edwards of Florida' had won the hat contest," Mrs. Edwards said. "She called me and started yelling, 'You won! You won!' "

Kotb declared it "the best hat ever."

Last year, Mrs. Edwards took top honors at the Derby Day hat contest in Southport Springs, a Zephyrhills mobile home park where she and her husband have lived for four years. She planned to enter the contest again this year and asked her personal haberdasher, daughter-in-law Elizabeth Edwards of Wesley Chapel, to create another headpiece.

After Elizabeth finished the battery-operated facsimile of the Kentucky Derby racetrack, however, she set her sights higher and entered her mother-in-law's hat in the Today show contest. Photo entries were judged on creativity and originality.

The grand prize was a $6,000 treat covering the airfare, hotel stay and Millionaire Box balcony level seats at the Derby race for Mrs. Edwards and her husband, who celebrated his 71st birthday on Saturday.

"We were up on a whole new level," Joe Edwards said. "They had an air-conditioned dining hall for us and an open bar all day. We could sit in an air-conditioned area and eat, then go out onto the balcony to enjoy the race."

He said the race was the highlight of the trip.

"The roar from the crowd when the horses were coming across the finish line was incredible," he said.

Mrs. Edwards wore her hat often during her trip, though not at the Derby itself. At 5 pounds, she said, the towering creation was too heavy for extended wear.

Then there was the matter of airport security in Louisville.

"They took the hat apart, looked it over, then gave it back to us," Mrs. Edwards said.

Natives of Massachusetts, the couple moved to Florida in 2000 and lived previously in the Orlando area, where Joe worked in merchandising for Walt Disney World and Lee worked in medical records at Florida Hospital in Celebration. Now retired, they enjoy social and neighborhood activities.

Mrs. Edwards modeled her award-winning hat at Southport Springs' weekly coffee gathering. She's already thinking up a plan for next year's hat.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Lee Edwards, the woman who won a Kentucky Derby hat contest, lives in Southport Springs. The original version of this article misstated the community's name.

Zephyrhills woman wins 'Today' show's Kentucky Derby Homemade Hat Contest 05/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:48am]
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