By Tammy Scileppi
Rita Plush has accomplished a lot at a time in life when many people retire.
At a young 60-plus, the anything-but-retiring author, teacher, and interior designer is aiming to add the title of “beauty queen” to her resumé.
If you’re thinking that Plush’s name sounds familiar, you’ve probably come across one of her delightful books. “Lily Steps Out,” Plush’s first novel, was published in 2012. It was followed by a collection of stories called “Alterations,” then another novel, “Feminine Products.” And she just completed, “I’m Frances,” her third novel.
When she’s not writing or running her interior design business, Plush teaches both subjects at Queensborough Community College in Bayside. And in her spare time, she also reviews books for the Fire Island News.
These days, Plush may soon be wearing yet another hat — or rather, crown — if she’s chosen as this year’s queen in the upcoming Ms. New York Senior America Pageant April 2, at SUNY College in Old Westbury, L.I.
This pageant organization is all about promoting a positive image of aging, and has been extending a warm welcome to women from all walks of life who have achieved the “Age of Elegance” — that is, 60 and above — providing an opportunity for women to enhance their lives by getting out of their comfort zones and meeting new people, forming lasting friendships, and using their experience and talent to benefit their communities.
In a recent phone interview from her new Bay Terrace home it was clear that a lot has happened since the author’s TimesLedger interview back in 2012, after she published her first novel.
That novel, “Lily Steps Out” is an endearing story — at times sad but also funny — about Lily Gold, a stifled housewife and mother stuck in a boring life. Unlike Plush, who kept busy as a writer and interior designer while raising her family, Lily feels she has no options or outlets.
“In those days, women got married and had children or became teachers. There weren’t many choices like today. It’s great to have options. I’m taking all the options now,” said Plush.
For her second novel, “Feminine Products,” she conjured up another troubled-but-lovable heroine, Rusty Scanlon, Lily’s best friend. Like her creator, Rusty has an eye for fashion. But unlike Plush, who had a solid, fulfilling marriage, Rusty starts messing up in her love life. When she meets the adoring Walter, she thinks she has it all, but she gets a rude awakening when she tells him she’s pregnant and he demands a paternity test.
Plush took a completely new direction for her latest novel, whose protagonist from another time, and the other end of the age spectrum.
“‘I’m Frances,’ is written from the point of view of a 6-year-old — something new for me — just after the Second World War,” Plush said. “Think a Jewish Eloise, who, instead of turning heads and causing havoc in New York City’s Plaza Hotel, makes a name for herself in a pre-war Brooklyn walkup, and you’ve got Frances.”
Plush dealt with her husband Herb’s unfortunate passing in 2015 by throwing herself into her writing and teaching. But she said her yoga classes have also helped get her back on track.
In fact, Plush pointed out that it was her instructor, Doris Bodine, who suggested she try out for the upcoming pageant.
The judges at the annual Ms. New York Senior America Pageant select the gracious lady who best exemplifies the qualities of the modern, dynamic senior woman and is willing to dedicate her time and energy to the organization.
The 14 pageant contestants hail from all over the state — from Upstate, Westchester County, Long Island and all five boroughs — including another Queens contestant, Rose Scalia from Jamaica Estates. The winner will receive, in addition to her crown and sash, a $1,000 cash award, plus an all-expense-paid week in Atlantic City to compete in the Senior America National Pageant in October.
Plush said she is really looking forward to this event, and if she wins, she plans a media blitz to promote the organization and its goal of getting senior women active and engaged in their community.
“I want to get on radio shows. I want to go on Joan Hamburg, on Curtis Sliwa — all kinds of talk shows,” she said, “and just spread the word about being active and involved, and just embracing life.”
Plush, who began her late-life writing career by spending 11 years as a part-time adult-education student at Queens College to earn her BA in English Lit and MA in Creative Writing, urges her fellow 60-plusers to never say “I’m too old.”
“A lot of things I’ve done, I’d done later in my life,” said Plush. “You’re not old. And the years will go by whether you do something or not.”