A retired educator discovers a new passion: beauty contests

Delma Rivera found an unexpected new passion after retiring from Central York High School, where she supported young people on the path to college and life beyond.

His new quest? Beauty pageant.

“I’m a person who loves new adventures and new experiences, and this is one of them,” said Rivera, who started competing in pageants for women over 60.

The Springfield Township resident will represent York County at the Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America pageant in Harrisburg on June 5. The competition, aimed at celebrating all that older women can do, is what struck Rivera the most when she learned about the event.

“The competition celebrates the age of excellence for women aged 60 and over. A lot of times you think of older women as has-beens and not contributing much,” Rivera said. “But we really are still very vibrant – we have a lot to contribute to our communities.”

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate being an older woman, and Rivera aims to highlight that.

The pageant will highlight four areas of judging categories: a private interview, a speech on the philosophy of life, talent performances, and an evening dress contest intended to showcase grace and poise.

Delma Rivera of Springfield Township puts on the shoes as she tries on her evening dress with accessories during a fitting session at Gusa By Victoria in York on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Rivera will wear the dress during the Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America Pageant competition in Harrisburg on June 5.  Photo by Dawn J. Sagert

For the talent part, Rivera said it was important to tap into his heritage and perform the bomba — a traditional Puerto Rican dance whose origins are rooted in the island’s history of African slavery.

“The skirt would be used to tell a story with all the beautiful moves,” Rivera said. “So for me, it’s part of the Puerto Rican tradition – of the bomba. So I’m very honored to be able to do this.”

To create her dress for the talent portion, Rivera tapped York-based fashion designer Victoria Kageni-Woodard.

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“The bomba is the Afro-Caribbean part of our culture,” Rivera said. “And I thought with her experience and being an amazing seamstress, she would be able to take the vision I had for my dress and create it.”

The custom outfit is a two-piece traditional folk dress with a wide skirt and an off-the-shoulder blouse.

The skirt is an incorporation of Spanish influence while paying homage and showing expression of Afro-Caribbean rhythm and culture, Rivera said.

Victoria Kageni-Woodard of Gusa By Victoria adjusts the back of the dress worn by Springfield Township's Delma Rivera as Rivera during a fitting session at the York Company on Thursday, April 21, 2022 Rivera will wear the dress while participating in the Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America Pageant in Harrisburg on June 5.  Photo by Dawn J. Sagert

Typically pageants are considered superficial beauty pageants. The Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America pageant, however, is about much more than focusing on outward appearances.

“You share your talent. You go to nursing homes, you do things that are to me what’s valuable in the community,” Rivera said. “You have to be someone who is involved in the community and who could offer something to the elderly.”

Being represented in the Ms. Pennsylvania Senior America pageant is important to Rivera because it proves that older women can still be vibrant and contribute, she said.

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The Senior America Pageant was founded in 1981 by a man named Al Mott who started the event at a New Jersey nursing home.

“He thought all older women deserved to have dignity,” Rivera said. “For me, I really want to emphasize that we are not a group of women to be overlooked.”

Since retiring from the Central York School District as a Diversity Education Specialist, Rivera has kept busy serving on several boards and councils, particularly as a leader of the Latino community of York.

Currently, she is commissioner of the Pennsylvania Commission on Latin American Affairs.

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Rivera continues the work started by her late parents.

Dr. Edwin Rivera and his wife, also named Delma, were best known for their service to the Latin American community, lobbying for interpreters at York Hospital and acknowledging the issues faced by young Latin Americans.

They also founded York’s first Hispanic American Center on South Queen Street.

Eddie Rivera and his sister Delma Rivera-Lytle pose for photos with a sign honoring their parents, Dr. Edwin and Delma Rivera, during a ceremony, Sunday, September 22, 2019. Photo by John A. Pavoncello

In 2019, the City of York dedicated the 200 block of East Princess Street to Rivera’s parents.

Much like her parents, Rivera has kept busy serving on various boards and commissions with the York County History Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates, YMCA of the Roses, Confronting Racism Coalition of York, and the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Organization.

She is also a member of the York County Federation of Democratic Women and heavily involved in her church – First Presbyterian – which recently established a racial justice committee.

“I saw this quote that said ’60 is the new 60,'” Rivera said. “We accept who we are.”

— Contact Tina Locurto at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.