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Zaneski said she got involved in the world of competition for scholarships, in fact, she graduated from Wilkes University debt-free thanks to those winnings.
After his victory 32 years ago, Zaneski lived in Altoona for a year, with foster family Pat and Mary Himes.
Staying in the area was part of the winner’s obligations, and Zaneski said the day after her coronation she was here with her car and foster family.
She made a lot of friends in Altoona, she said, and it’s only fitting that her 200th and final appearance as Ms. Pennsylvania International will come to an end this weekend on the 20th anniversary of the international pageant which takes place. holds in the city.
It took her eight tries over 12 years to win the Ms. PA crown, a victory she sought to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, her platform today and when she won the title of Miss PA 32 years ago.
“I wanted to be Ms. PA Int’l so I could make a difference by using my ‘celebrity and my shiny hat’ to advocate for people with Alzheimer’s and fight for a cure,” she posted on her Facebook page. “I know I accomplished that.”
Zaneski has entered and won dozens of local and state competitions over the years — at one point she was even named Pittston’s Tomato Festival Queen — and while she has no plans to continue to compete, she has not finished with competitions.
“I really love glamor and dressing up is so much fun,” she said. “I had so many opportunities, the crown allowed my voice to be heard.”
Zaneski said she has made many friends over the years and wants to encourage others to do their best, whether in a competition or in life.
“I tell them, especially kids, that they have to work hard to get the things they want,” she said.
Zaneski knows how to work hard, as she makes appearances at Ms. Pennsylvania International while working full-time with veterans. She is also an adjunct professor at Wilkes University in the department of nursing and is a district governor for Lions Club International.
When the competition wraps up Saturday night, Zaneski will be on staff at the Pennsylvania International Pageant, joining State Manager and Altoona resident Jodi Cessna and her team with the annual competition and day-to-day running.
Cessna, which has served as the state director for the international competition since 2003, has been involved in the industry as a competitor, judge and volunteer since 1995.
She was the first Ms. Ohio International runner-up in 1996 and the first Ms. Pennsylvania International runner-up in 2000, and won the title in 2003.
Now she and her husband, Scott, are the organizers of the Pennsylvania International Pageant.
There are differences between the Miss America, Miss USA and Pennsylvania International pageants in that they all have different judging criteria, she said.
Another pageant staffer, Amanda Leber of Pittsburgh, won the titles of Miss Pennsylvania International 2014 and Ms. Pennsylvania International 2017.
Although she is not competing, she now enjoys being involved as a staff member.
“We’re like one big family, and I’m excited to come back to see all the contestants and see all the hard work they’re doing,” she said.
Competitors and eventual winners make a lot of memories at the events.
Zaneski, as Miss Pennsylvania in 1991, later competed in the Miss America Pageant in its heyday in Atlantic City. Twenty buses full of Altoona and Wilkes-Barre supporters went to see her at the parade, which is still a favorite memory, she said.
Candidates promote causes
Some pageants seem to focus more on swimwear, while Pennsylvania’s international pageants are community-focused, with contestants promoting a favorite cause or platform — like Alzheimer’s disease. Zaneski, a cause she chose because her grandfather was diagnosed with the disease when she was young.
Cessna said the Pennsylvania International competition began in the 1980s in the Scranton area, then moved to Lancaster and called Altoona home for the past 20 years.
“It wasn’t always at the convention center,” she said. “Before, it was at the Roosevelt, at the Jaffa and then at the Casino.”
At orientation on Friday, Scott Cessna said it was the first time the contest would be held at the Convention Center.
“As the building is new to us, we don’t know how things work, it might take some getting used to, and there might be hiccups,” he said.
This competition has a strong focus on interviews. There are no bathing suits, but competitors wear aerobics gear, but only in certain divisions.
“Pre-teens only do party dresses and fun fashion, teens and Miss Pennsylvania do everything, and Ms. Pennsylvania only does party dresses and aerobics outfits,” Jodi Cessna said.
She plans the whole competition and recruits all the candidates.
“I also go through all the interviews of the candidates who represent cities across the state and order everything needed for the event,” she said.
This year, there are 26 nominees from across the state.
The winners of Miss Pre-teen, Miss Teen, Miss and Mrs. Pennsylvania International Pageant will determine who will represent Pennsylvania at the International Pageant in Kingsport, Tennessee in July.
Miss Pennsylvania Alexis Barlock of Pittsburgh raised $20,000 and spent a year advocating for Sweats 4 Vets and Shepherd’s Hearts House of Hope, a safe place for veterans to go in Pittsburgh after serving.
She, like Zaneski, competed three times before winning her current title.
“I’m so grateful to have finally won and competing at nationals was one of the highlights of the year,” Barlock said.
At national championships, she competed with competitors from all over the world.
“I became really good friends with Miss Australia and Miss Haiti, and Linda also became friends with Ms. Singapore and Ms. Australia,” Barlock said.
Although she admits to being a little sad to pass on her crown, she is excited to see what her successor can achieve.
“I really had a great year, this contest really shaped me into the woman I am now and it taught me a lot about myself,” Barlock said.
‘Make every day count’
When Zaneski visits Altoona, she stays with the Cessna family, as both of her original foster parents are deceased.
While there, she always makes a stop at Jethro’s and Eat’n Park, for Smiley cookies.
“Normally I’ll come the night before and then start attending my appearances the next day,” Zaneski said.
As Mrs. Pennsylvania, she spent a day at Baker Mansion and traveled to the Altoona Curve, which was unsettled in 1991.
She said crowning her successor on Saturday night would be bittersweet because she worked so hard to win the title. Wearing the crown has allowed her to spread the word about Alzheimer’s and the need for a treatment and a cure, and she hopes whoever wins the title “will go full throttle”.
“Make every day count, because a year goes by very quickly,” she said.
Cati Keith, editor of Mirror Staff, is at 814-946-7535.
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