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Published Sep. 2, 2005

It all began with an application she found online. Linda J. Diaz, 62, of Spring Hill filled out the form for women over 59 years of age and entered the 25th anniversary Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant of America, which covers the eastern United States.

After she applied, Diaz had a phone interview, and she was selected to compete.

The pageant began in two Massachusetts cities: Fall River and New Bedford. Back then, 40 women competed for the title of Ms. Senior Sweetheart. The competition included a formal gown presentation, two production numbers (a patriotic routine and a '50s number) and interviews.

Since the first pageant, the competition has grown. On Oct. 24, Diaz departed for the Hampton Inn in Fall River. The pageant began Thursday, and the finals are today.

Diaz is a certified RID interpreter for the deaf, with more than 25 years of experience interpreting for both English and Spanish speakers. The Registry of Interpreters is a national membership organization of professionals who provide sign language interpreting/transliterating services for deaf and hard of hearing persons.

She has interpretered in educational settings and at church and social events, as well as for hospitals, doctors and in legal matters. Diaz has interpreted for sporting events as well. She signed the national anthem at this year's opening day game between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Boston Red Sox.

"I had the pleasure of signing our national anthem at several NASCAR events. And in July, I signed the song Some Gave All as singer Billy Rae Cyrus sang it during a concert he gave in Webster, Mass," said Diaz.

Diaz said she offers her services to all who may need them because " "compassion for all' are the words to live by."

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DiAna's Dance Express & Performing Arts Center took six of its modeling competitors to the 17th annual America's Cover Miss Beauty Pageant in Brooksville on Oct. 12.

The girls, ranging in ages from 3 years old to 17, competed in several divisions, including beauty, photogenic, best fashion and most beautiful. Four of the six girls were competing for the first time.

In the 2- and 3-year-old division, Dana Fulgenzi, 3, won first place and the title of beauty queen and the "most beautiful" award.

In the 4- and 5-year-old division, Morgan El Yamani, 4, won first place and the title of beauty queen and the "most beautiful" award.

In the 7- to 9-year-old division, Ashley Lewis, 9, won first place and the title of beauty queen and the "most photogenic" award. Savannah Strickland, 9, took second place.

In the 16- to 25-year-old division, Trisha Ecochardt, 17, won first place and the title of beauty queen and the "most photogenic" award. Kristen Dempsey, 17, took first runner-up. She also won the "most beautiful" and the "best fashion" awards. She also had the highest overall score in the division for 11-year-olds and up.

The girls won their entry fees for the state finals next July. In addition, awards presented to them included rhinestone crowns, banners, trophies, teddy bears and a CD player.

The six girls are all students at DiAna's. They are enrolled in the modeling program, and also take classes in dance, gymnastics, voice and drama.

Students of DiAna's Dance Express & Performing Arts Center participated in the 17th annual America's Cover Miss Beauty Pageant. Standing, from left, are: Ashley Lewis, Kristen Dempsey, Trisha Ecochardt, Savannah Strickland, Morgan El Yamani and Dana Fulgenzi.