By Kim Knode
The stereotype of beauty queens as Barbies with silicon breasts stuffed into swimsuits topped off with tiaras is starting to loosen its self-righteous grip in my mind. The pageant gals I spoke with: Mrs. United States 2001, Dana Opsincs; Mrs. Globe 2001, Stacey Cooper; and Mrs. US Globe 2001, Becky Coomes are well-rounded women who are as different as well, Barbie, Skipper and Kelly! For example, Opsincs thrills to the roar of engines revving up for a death-defying chase around the NASCAR racetrack. Cooper loves chasing yellow tennis balls around the court in hopes of adding another golden trophy to her collection. Mississippi born and bred Becky Coomes delights in touring her state giving ‘I-think-I-can’ motivational speeches to school children.
Heart smarts and relationship savoir-faire is what impressed me most in the interviews (besides the rhinestones!) If nothing else, the ladies deserve endurance medals. Each has spent over 4,745 days of their lives with the same man. All three have sailed past their crystal anniversaries. Impressive too is their candor about navigating through choppy waters stirred up by arguments about money and children. (None of them mentioned sex.)
The lady who prides herself on luxurious golden locks and the crown of Mrs. United States, 17-year marriage veteran, Dana Opsincs confesses, “There have been times that I’ve been so mad at my husband that I could spit.”
So how does she resolve the differences? The exuberant lass who I met on stage shortly after receiving the title of Mrs. United States 2001 disappears for a second. I hear a small sigh on the other end of the telephone. “I’m not a fighter. I am the kind that will clam up for two or three days then talk things out.” She declares that, ” part of our success as a couple is our ability to step back and look at how petty things were that we were arguing about.”
Speaking up is no problem for Mrs. Globe 2001, Stacey Cooper. (Perhaps her tennis training prepares her to step up to the net fearlessly and face challenges.) In between bites of green salad at a fund-raising luncheon for abused women, Cooper tells me, “If Tim and I have disagreements or things we don’t like about each other – we just say it. And then work it out.”
I question the open declaration or dislike of a mate’s behavior. Cooper (wearing a light lime suit which shows off her tan) looks directly at me with flashing brown eyes. “You must tell them,” says the 16-year marriage veteran. She explains, ” No marriage is perfect. You have a commitment to work it out. I think people give up too easily nowadays.”
As Cooper munches her Boston lettuce, I ask about communicating differences in front of children. “You have to stand together on every issue with your children. You can argue points behind closed doors,” she says.
Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick who have conducted hundreds of seminars on the subject of relationship over the course of their 20-year marriage agree. “Presenting a united front to children is exceedingly important if you want to teach them that relationship is about cooperation,” says Dr. Ron. He adds, “Good communication and mutual understanding are the keys to winning the game.”
Mrs. US Globe 2001, Becky Coomes embraces the Hulnicks’ sentiment. The Mississippi beauty claims that compassion is an essential part of keeping her 13-year marriage on an even keel. For instance, her husband, Ken, sometimes gets hot under the collar about the pageant queen’s penchant for clothes shopping and purchasing video games for her son. Instead of exploding and reacting, This Southern Belle says, “I try to be more understanding of his needs and wishes.” Dressed in a fire engine red mini with matching jacket, shoes and purse in the lobby of a luxury Palm Springs hotel (the morning after snatching the Mrs. US Globe 2001 scepter), she explains, “Ken would be happy with nothing. He was brought up having very little. You see, he came from a large family with 12 brothers and sisters.”
So how does the couple regain harmony after a heated discussion? Coomes coolly states, “We talk it out.” She asserts that, “Women in the South are a lot stronger then people may give them credit for.” Mrs. US Globe 2001 continues, “Yes, we are submissive. But we want a man to support our dreams.” She flashes her pearly whites, “Or, you know, it’s just not going to work.”
Coomes continues, “From the time, “I won “Most Beautiful” at Heinz Community College, I knew I wanted to be Mrs. Mississippi. I never had the dream to be Miss Mississippi. I always wanted the all-American Family.”
Some might say Coomes realized her goal of the all-American family and American dream. Past pageant wins include Mrs. Mississippi America 1991, Mrs. Mississippi United States 1993, Mrs. Mississippi International 1998, Mrs. Mississippi All American. Her latest title is, of course, Mrs. US Globe 2001. In addition she helped her husband expand his snack distribution company to an empire. Proudly she states, “The business does well over million dollars a year sales in quarters and dollars. You know, just through those vending machines!”
Also, Coomes is now able to greet her son at the door after school. “I was always torn between home and work,” she explains. “So I moved my (formal wear rental) business home when my lease came due.” (Becky’s Kloset was created as a reaction to aspiring beauty and prom queens coveting Coomes’ pageant gowns.)
Conversely, Cooper (who is fit and fabulous looking at 40) recently stopped serving “crudités” to her children after school because she went back to work. All four of her progeny urged her to accept an invitation from New York’s Ford Agency to return to her modeling career. And what was her partner’s reaction? Mrs. Globe 2001 proudly proclaims, “My husband has never squashed anything that I wanted to do.”
However, the athletic Coopers are able to keep their commitment to maintain a solid family unit by traveling together. “Last week, my 13-year-old had a national basketball tournament. We flew where she had to go. Two weeks earlier, another one was also in a sports thing. My 15-year-old does dance competitions around the country.” The professional model/pageant queen smiles and says, “We all support each other.”
Psychologist, Robert Jameson (who is married to the owner of a successful Santa Monica skin care salon) declares that, “the advantage of couples with common goals is like a corporation with a mission statement.” When conflict occurs, couples can steer their Love Boat back on course by remembering their mutual interests.
Indeed, car racing is a fascination Opsincs and her husband, Bill have shared for 17 years. Mrs. United States 2001 and her beloved also revel in swooshing down snowy slopes together. “Bill and I love to ski. In fact, we’d love to move to Colorado,” she says.
“So why are you still in Florida?” I ask.
“Well, we both have these career paths going on.” Opsincs explains, “He’s got his electrical business. Plus I’ve got things that I do like the pageants and PR for (race car) team Rensi.” She enthusiastically adds, “We’re both working hard and saving so we can live in Colorado.”
Certainly expending energy and effort to realize heart visions are nothing new for Opsincs, Coomes and Cooper. Strutting the catwalk with confidence in Atlantic City or anywhere else is precipitated by months – years of disciplined diets and exercise regimes.
Perhaps the ladies’ diligence lends itself to a willingness to communicate, have compassion, resolve differences, discover and support every family member’s passions so they can manifest dreams of a happy home. These are hardly the attributes or accessories of a plastic Barbie doll. Maybe a sentiment from Coomes’ poem for Mississippi school children is right, “…For out of the world we find, Success begins with a fellow’s will – It’s all in the state of mind.”
Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.