Akins, 70, was crowned Ms. Senior Tennessee Valley Fair Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the annual Knoxville fair, winning what was only the third pageant she has entered.
Previously competing in Ms. Tennessee Senior America Pageant, Akins placed in the top five in 2017 and was second runner-up earlier this year.
“It was more nerve-wracking at this level, really,” Akins said of her experience at the fair. “I was afraid to disappoint all the people who came to support me, and also, you never know what the judges are looking for.”
Fair contestants were judged on a gown competition, along with interviews with the three judges with whom they shared their life philosophies.
“I think a lot of people have misconceptions about pageants,” Akins said. “I know I did before I became involved.
“It’s not about beauty, nor is it for someone with a big ego, but it is a celebration of life and a celebration of you and of your friends.
“You make so many friends there, and you become supportive of each other.
“The night of (the Fair competition), I had 10 (other pageant winners) there cheering me on,” she continued. “The current Ms. Tennessee Senior winner is going to Atlantic City for the national competition, and many of us will be there to send her off, too.”
It has been a decidedly new chapter in her life, in which she already had stepped down to part-time work, and spent time traveling the world.
Long-time friend Lauren Monahan, who won numerous awards in various Ms. Senior categories, had long suggested Akins join the pageant ranks.
“She kept telling me, ‘you should do that,’” Akins said. “But I said, ‘I’m a tomboy!’ and noted she has been physically active all of her life.
“I even operated a forklift,” Akins added. “The idea of a pageant seemed too prissy for me.”
However, Monahan did introduce Akins to Frances Brooks, who is very active in the Ms. Tennessee Senior America Pageant, and the two formed a bond that paved the way for Akins’ foray into the pageant world.
“Before I entered that first pageant, I had never even been to one,” Akins said.
On that level of competition, contestants are required to showcase a talent, and Akins selected storytelling for hers.
“I’ve always been a good story-teller, and I slip into (the alter ego) ‘Sally Sue,’ a real country girl,” although the Fair contest did not have a talent division.
Contestants also are encouraged to develop community platforms to support and speak on, with Akins’ choices including domestic abuse and Alzheimer’s research.
As an offshoot, Akins also has begun judging pageants, and it is something she hopes to continue. Poise and excellent public speaking skills have come to Akins naturally, beginning when she was a top 4-H student in Sweetwater, and finely honed over the years through a variety of careers, including nursing and marketing.
Akins lived outside of East Tennessee for about two decades, but returned “home” in 1995.
She has three sons, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, and added she enjoys outdoor activities and volunteering with a variety of causes in the Knoxville area.
For now, there are expectations of Akins to represent the “Fairest of the Fair” crown, which will including appearances and other ways to “promote the pageant.”
“It is the first year in several years they have had a senior division, and I would like to help more ladies get involved,” she said.
“But most of all, I would like to help other ladies feel good about themselves.”