Pageant winner: Focus on community service, not beauty

Published 1:16 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The title of Mrs. Southwestern Michigan may sound like a beauty pageant, but this year's winner Marsha Watson was quick to point out that this is no pageant, it is actually a scholarship program that judges the contestants on their commitment to community interests.
The Mrs. Southwestern Michigan program, which was created to be a fundraiser for the Miss Southwestern Michigan, took place on Saturday night at the First Assembly of God Family Life Center in St. Joseph.
Each of the five contestants vying for the title had a platform issue.
Watson, a Niles resident, won the competition with a platform centering on adoption and her belief that children are the future.
While character is the focus of the program, the competition does have some components similar to a beauty pageant including an evening gown competition, a sportswear competition and an on-stage interview.
A bulk of the competition's scoring, 50 percent, was taken from a behind the scenes interview with the six judges, made up of three married couples.
Watson, who owns and operates an Allstate Insurance office in Niles with her husband Brain, has three children Melissa, 24, who is adopted, Brian, 22 and Brandon, 19. At 43, Watson was the oldest of the five contestants.
Her platform issue came from her extensive experience with caring for children as a natural mother, a foster parent, an adoptive parent and now as a child mentor.
After the couple had two sons of their own, Watson still had a desire to have a little girl in her life. The Watsons decided to open up their home to children in need by becoming foster parents.
But, it was not that simple. Watson compared the road to adopting Melissa to the plot of a made for TV movie.
When Melissa first arrived at the Watson home in 1987, she was a 7-year-old foster child with a black eye and head lice.
The next day, the family independence agency asked that Melissa be moved to another home where she would be the youngest child. The Watsons' two sons were 5 years old and 2 years old at the time.
The family kept in contact with Melissa and told the agency to call them if she ever needed a home.
For the next four years, Melissa bounced around with a number of foster families and potential adoptive families, but the situations never worked out. In 1991, the opportunity arose for the Watsons to adopt Melissa and at the age of 11, they officially made her a part of the family. Melissa went on to graduate from high school and is now a licensed cosmetologist.
While the Watsons are no longer foster parents, she continues to help children awaiting adoption by volunteering as a mentor at the Oaklawn Foundation for Mental Health.
One of her responsibilities as Mrs. Southwestern Michigan is to promote her platform issue and the importance of community service through visitations and speaking engagements around the area.