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Dena Hite said she was surprised to win a recent pageant at Decatur Health & Rehab. 'I couldn’t understand why they chose me,' she said. 'But I always try to be good and nice to everybody and not hurt their feelings.' Her escort was facility maintenance director Mark Baldwin, center. Hite advances to Miss Alabama Nursing Home competition in Birmingham.
DAILY Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Dena Hite said she was surprised to win a recent pageant at Decatur Health & Rehab. "I couldn't understand why they chose me," she said. "But I always try to be good and nice to everybody and not hurt their feelings." Her escort was facility maintenance director Mark Baldwin, center. Hite advances to Miss Alabama Nursing Home competition in Birmingham.

Queen Dena
Spunk, good attitude earn
Hite pageant title

By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer

pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Dena Hite's bubbly personality and spunk make her a winner at 83.

Her family and the staff of Decatur Health & Rehab already thought that, and the judges for the facility's first-ever pageant made it official.

They handed Hite a crown, winner's sash and flowers, along with the opportunity to compete in the Alabama Nursing Home Association's statewide pageant in Birmingham this summer.

Hite could be a winner because she'll take along her good-natured spirit, a habit from years of running her own sewing business, assembling missile parts for Raytheon and serving as a Wal-Mart greeter at four stores in three states.

This was not like a Miss America preliminary — no swimsuits were in sight, and some of the seven contestants used wheelchairs and walkers. Each contestant wore a corsage and answered questions, but they were a bit easier than the political and social consciousness issues younger pageant contestants might be asked.

After recovering from two broken hips in four years, Hite said she was pleased to be able to walk through the rose-adorned archway and across the lobby "stage" on her own power.

She was comfortable with the tuxedo-clad men helping out. The emcee, Kyle Corsbie, was her physical therapy leader, while her escort, Mark Baldwin, is the facility's maintenance director.

"I think she's got a good chance to make it in Birmingham," said activities director Dawn Abbott, who is gathering photos and putting together a required three-minute video for state competition.

"She's sassy and full of spunk, with a cute personality, and she got out and did a little dance when she came in with Mark." Abbott said the first runner-up, Annie Allen, will be the backup for Hite, who said she was surprised to win.

"I looked at everybody and thought they all looked better than I did, and I couldn't understand why they chose me," said Hite. "But I always try to be good and nice to everybody and not hurt their feelings."

Her attitude makes her a favorite with the staff, who voted for the residents they thought would make good contestants. Hite got the most votes from the staff, Abbott said.

Everybody had a part in helping her prepare, but her 8-year-old great-granddaughter, Hannah Warren, was probably the most excited. She came over early with her grandmother, Sonja Fielding of Mallard Creek, who is Hite's only child, and they brought a gift of pearl earrings and bracelet for her to wear to the big event.

The staff helped Hite put on the turquoise dress she had worn to her grandson's wedding. Meanwhile son-in-law Wathan Fielding and Hite's two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren joined the audience of nearly 200.

They liked the question-and-answer part. When asked what she attributed her long life to, Hite quickly responded, "Jesus."

Talking about the pageant, she said "as you get older, you forget," but it's apparent that some skills, such as manners, stay sharp.

From coal country to Wal-Mart

She grew up in Kentucky coal mining country and married Alvin Hite at 19. They lived in the Bristol area on the Virginia-Tennessee border. After his death in the late 1970s, she went to work at Raytheon, where he had been employed, while continuing "to sew for everybody that came along," as well as making commercial items such as heavy velvet curtains for churches.

Later Hite became a Wal-Mart greeter, working at two stores in the Bristol area and then, after moving South to be near her daughter, at the old location in Decatur. After her first broken hip and rehabilitation, she went back to work at Wal-Mart in Hartselle, where she lived for a time.

She moved to Decatur Health & Rehab with a second broken hip last August. She likes dominoes, bingo, crafts and church services, and Hite taps her feet to the music when visiting groups play and sing.

Her job experience as a greeter shows; she speaks cheerfully to everyone arriving and leaving. "I liked that work, because I like people, and I especially liked the children — they were nice, and not rude like grownups are sometimes," said Hite, who often worked 35 hours a week in her 70s.

"The Lord's been good to me, giving me a good husband and daughter and health," Hite said. "But I like to be independent and want to do things without help when I can."

Her daughter acknowledged that "she does what she wants to, basically," but like many at that age, she has osteoporosis and some balance problems, along with some dementia.

Hite came back with, "I thought you were going to say I'm a little fussy."

Fielding said she thinks the judges picked her mother "because Mama likes to dance, she's pretty spunky and has a good personality and talks to everybody."

Then she told her, "And we're gonna party in Birmingham."

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