MANCHESTER – The town of Manchester is home to this year’s Ms. New Jersey Senior America, Carolyn Slade Harden, who recently competed for the crown in the “Age of Elegance” pageant at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
Ms. Senior America honors the achievements and inner beauty of women 60 years of age and older and encourages them to share their positive outlook on life with others. To win the pageant, which included categories of talent, philosophy of life, gown and a private interview, Harden sang the song “For Once In My Life.”
Harden grew up in Newark, New Jersey alongside eight siblings. To entertain themselves at night, they would all sing. She sang during the day, too, and studied opera at Arts High School, the first public high school in the nation to specialize in visual and performing arts. Leading roles in Madame Butterfly, Aida and Carmen led to a career down the road in music, where she sang with Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston in several gospel groups.
Harden produced three music records during the 1960s that topped the charts in multiple U.S. cities. Her debut songs were “I Saw You With My Best Friend” and “Eavesdropping,” followed by “I Wanna Know Right Now,” which was written by Van McCoy.
Harden also served as choir director at churches throughout New Jersey, including the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she conducted Whitney Houston in her first solo performance.
“Growing up with family of singers as well, it kind of came natural to want to do that and to pursue that,” she said.
These days, Harden spends her time at the Renaissance at Manchester, and was one of the first 300 people to move in back when the community was built. She is of course involved with directing the Renaissance Adult Community Chorus.
While singing came naturally, competing was a first for Ms. Harden, who said she joined the pageant in order to give back.
“They’ve got a gracious group of women,” she said, adding, “I wanted to be a part of it.”
It turned out that the only way to be a part of it was to participate in the pageant. The first time that women from the Ms. Senior America organization came to the Renaissance to recruit for the pageant, she said no, as she was caring for her husband at the time. But the second time they came, she said yes.
One of those Ms. Senior America women, who became a mentor during the pageant, was someone Harden went to high school with and who, like her, sang opera.
Harden said that while she has a great support system at the Renaissance and is very involved with activities there, she still had too much time on her hands. She liked what the Ms. America group was doing, working in the community and with seniors.
As Ms. Senior America, she will travel throughout the state as the featured performer in all New Jersey Cameo Club Showcases, performing in 55 and over communities, clubs, veterans’ hospitals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Her duties also include promoting the positive aspects of aging.
Ms. America duties aside, Harden is someone who doesn’t stop at just one skill set. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science with a major in Finance from Kean University, and just closed her business OfficeXperts, LLC last year. She currently runs the Harden Institute for Financial Independence, also known as the HIFI Club, where she helps teach youth the importance of managing their money, planning for the future and getting financially ready for college.
Part of the HIFI Club is members of her own family. Harden has family members spread across 36 states, and she serves as family mentor, accompanying the parents of young cousins, nieces and nephews to the bank, or with setting up trust funds and investments.
Perhaps due to her sound financial skills and advice, she has a daughter and son who are both successful entrepreneurs, as well as a granddaughter, grandson and great-granddaughter who no doubt have bright futures ahead.
Harden will now go on to compete against women from other states in the Ms. Senior America National Pageant at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in October.
“I think Nationals offers an even greater challenge to get involved and I’m looking forward to doing that too,” she said.