By Stacy Smith

“I knew she had it in the bag,” said Greenville High School senior Joseph Price, who was leading her cheering squad. When Joseph was in 5th grade, Ms. Millie McDonald took him to sing in the National Youth Choir held at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Joseph was the youngest of the 400 youth performing in the elite performance that year.

Katye Giddens of Crowne Health Care of Greenville styles Millie McDonald's hair and places her crown before the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant.

Katye Giddens of Crowne Health Care of Greenville styles Millie McDonald’s hair and places her crown before the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant.

Joseph’s grandmother, Susan Andrews, cut a trip short in Savannah, Georgia, to attend the pageant. “I drove seven hours from Savannah to be here at the pageant with Joseph. I live in Greenville and took Millie on a road trip to Montgomery to select her pageant dress. We visited five dress shops that day. She is a best friend, like family, and I had to be here,” Mrs. Andrews explained.

The former Greenville High School choral and piano instructor, Ms. McDonald said, “I thought the lady next to me on stage would win. But, you know, I had to be myself.”

And, be herself, she is. She explained, “I am not lost for talking. When I went to the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home interview with the judges this morning, I just started talking. I thought, ‘I think I did OK.’ But, I was already very proud to have made it to the top 10 out of 54 contestants.”

“When I heard my name called, that I had won, I turned to Sandra Medley, Director of Social Services, at Crowne Health Care of Greenville, and said, ‘Help. This is going to be a big year,’” said Ms. McDonald.

Ms. Alabama Nursing Home serves a one-year term as an official spokesperson for residents living in Alabama nursing homes and gives those who may not be familiar with the long-term health care profession a better understanding of what today’s nursing home is all about.

Her daughter Dawn Higgenbotham said, “We talked about this. When she was selected by the staff and residents to represent Crowne Health Care of Greenville at the pageant, she was very excited. She really worked hard, prepared for the interviews, and selected her dress. She was going for it!”

One final touch up before Millie McDonald takes the stage.

One final touch up before Millie McDonald takes the stage.

“I am people oriented,” said Ms. McDonald. “Being a music teacher, you travel everywhere to perform from Mobile to Birmingham and all over with students. I look forward to traveling across Alabama as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home.”

For more than 45 years, Ms. McDonald taught music and has no intention of stopping instructing or stopping learning now.

“My daughter Dawn gave me a smartphone,” said Ms. McDonald. “With it, somehow I hacked into my granddaughter Shanna’s phone.” Her granddaughter Shanna lives in Tallahassee and also thought Ms. McDonald’s Facebook account had been compromised. Dawn had to explain to Shanna that all of that activity was, in fact, her grandmother on Facebook connecting to her former students.

Ms. McDonald has three daughters named Dawn, Dusk, and Day, and seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her daughter Day McDonald Hull said, “If you told me the woman I know from last summer would be here winning this pageant today, I couldn’t believe it. She had a split sternum, triple bypass surgery, a right shoulder injury, a knee replacement, and could not get rid of pneumonia. This is extraordinary.”

Ms. McDonald gives the following advice to people living in a nursing home, “Don’t give up. Always look forward. Don’t look back. Keep going up the ladder. Think positively. Let’s count our blessings and think about what we are doing.”

Millie-McDonald-article-3As her car approached Greenville city limits following the pageant, Ms. McDonald saw blue lights flashing and heard sirens blaring. Police Chief Lonzo Ingram surprised her with a police escort back to Crown Health Care. “I was glad to do it for Mrs. Millie,” Chief Ingram said.

Day McDonald Hull said, “Yes, we need to celebrate big time. I am ready for the fireworks and parades.”

Ms. McDonald remarked, “They’ve got a tiger by the tail.”

Editor’s Note: Stacy Smith, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.