Sunday, August 14, 2005

Mrs. Hawaii, Arlene Newman-Van Asperen, calls herself a mom first. She and her husband, Bill, and son, Liam, enjoy their "back yard" on the North Shore.

Mrs. Hawaii
keeps it real

Arlene Newman-Van Asperen might be a beauty queen, but she's not always picture-perfect. In fact, she was forced to show up for an interview in the Mrs. Hawaii pageant sporting a black eye.

Mrs. Hawaii 2005 fund-raiser

Fund-raiser: 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday

Featuring: Pupus and wines; entertainment by Dita Holifield and more

Place: Waikiki Yacht Club

Donation: $50, to help cover pageant costs, including gowns, shipping of materials, personal trainers, advertising and travel

Also: Donations may be sent to Arlene Newman-Van Asperen, Mrs. America Pageant 2005, P.O. Box 31009, Honolulu 96820.

Newman-Van Asperen describes it as a "character-building experience." Her toddler son had accidentally kicked her in the cheek, bringing on the shiner. "I knew there was no way I could cover it up with makeup, so I used the story in my interview."

Honesty drew a positive response. Newman-Van Asperen was crowned Mrs. Hawaii a couple months ago.

Although she wears the crown, Newman-Van Asperen considers herself a mom first. "My son is my No. 1 priority," she said. She attends a regular play group and includes him in all of her undertakings. She spends lots of time with her family at the beach near their North Shore home or hiking up Diamond Head. "When I'm in parades, my husband, Bill, rides alongside the car on his bike, with our 3-year-old son, Liam, in tow," she said.

"Our son enjoyed clapping and waving at Mom," Bill added.

Liam gave his mom a big hug right after she was crowned. "That was one of the most magical moments in my life," she said.

Bill -- who has gained the title "Mr. Hawaii" from family and close friends -- says he has always been the "Mr. Mom" type. "Nothing much has changed," he said.

As a minister's daughter, Newman-Van Asperen has long been involved in community service -- a common thread she found with her husband immediately. "Our first date was to a benefit for the Lupus Foundation," she said.

Bill, a wine broker, donates the wine for benefit events, and they both work at fund-raisers for Lupus, the Hawaii Foodbank and Easter Seals. She also helps run a Vacation Bible School program on the North Shore and another back in New Hampshire.

She hopes the Mrs. Hawaii title helps her bring more awareness to good causes, particularly the prevention of child abuse, one of her pageant platforms. "There are many great opportunities to meet and talk with people. I feel like I have a chance to make a difference in the lives of children."

She said she is accustomed to giving back to the community. "Entering the pageant and becoming a spokesperson for Hawaii charities is just taking it to the next level."

Her commitment is deeply rooted. "My father was a minister, and we were always raised to give back to the community," she said. "My grandmother used to knit socks for the children at the orphanage. ... As a little girl, I would go to there and dance while my family sang."

She continues to make regular visits to the orphanage.

Newman-Van Asperen arrived in the islands in 1988, with $350 in her pocket. She worked three jobs to survive. Fortunately, she lived with some close family friends, where she learned the meaning of aloha spirit.

In 1992, Newman-Van Asperen, a United Airlines flight attendant, was crowned Miss Interline, a competition among flight attendants from airlines across the country. She also participated in a couple of pageants on the East Coast to get scholarship money for college, but does not consider herself a real pageant person.

"I am a mom, a wife and have a career," she said. Her reason for running for Mrs. Hawaii came at a turning point in her life. "I had a miscarriage; at 39, I lost my baby," she said. "I wanted to do something positive to refocus. I had so much fun (in the pageant) and laughed lots."

Another of her platforms addresses education. "I hope to meet with the governor and discuss education in Hawaii," she said. "I want to make a difference, so I attend as many events as I can."

Newman-Van Asperen's son had a slight speech delay, so she understands the importance of programs that help children overcome challenges. She feels fortunate that she found help through programs at Early Intervention and Tutu & Me.

"Many parents are afraid their child will be stigmatized, so they don't get help. I talk openly about it," she said. She hopes this will encourage others to acknowledge their children's problems and deal with them.

In visits to schools, Newman-Van Asperen discusses careers, making good choices and the importance of not dropping out.

Newman-Van Asperen will fly to Palm Springs, Calif., next month to compete in the Mrs. America pageant. If she wins, she will receive a car, $25,000 in diamonds, a Trim Spa modeling contract and a chance to compete in the Mrs. World pageant.

"I turn 40 in March. Whether I'm Mrs. Hawaii or Mrs. America, it has been a great ride," Newman-Van Asperen said. She doesn't really view her upcoming adventure as a pageant. "It's a way for me to promote family and motherhood."

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