50 over 50: Southern Utah women embrace self-worth, beauty in portrait collection

ST. GEORGE — In a banquet room at the Santa Clara Town Hall, Rhonda Miller looked around at the people gathered to celebrate the strength and gratitude of 50 people over 50 years old, and a tear shined in her eye. 

(L-R) Rhonda Miller and Melody Averett share a laugh during the 50 Over 50 event, Santa Clara, Utah, April 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Look at us. We’re here, we’re amazing and we’re starting a new chapter,” said Miller, who partnered with Melody Averett to form the photography team of M&R Gallery.

The event, held last Wednesday night, unveiled the first-ever Southern Utah edition of the 50 Over 50 Portrait Series, designed to celebrate local women over the age of 50. Some photos were taken in color, and some in black and white. 

“This is about women that are taking a moment to allow themselves to have a portrait done of themselves to remind themselves of their self-worth and how beautiful they are. It’s kind of a chapter reset for them a lot of times,” Averett said. “We were amazed at how many women came to us because they had hit a hard chapter in their life … . We have cancer survivors; we have women who lost children to suicide.”

As far as what they wanted to covey, Averett and Miller talked about their confidence, power and beauty, while rejecting the idea that their best years are behind them.

The portraits can be best described as glamour shots. And participants received Hollywood-like treatment of having their makeup done by a professional crew.

At Wednesday’s event, some participants referred to their image — captured for all time — as giving them a sense of immortality and considered turning 50 as just a beginning.

“Everyone doesn’t want to lose their youth for sure, and I think that’s why we decided, because we’re in that stage of life, that we needed to start honoring people that are that age and try to pass on something that could ignite them to know that they still have a whole life to live to give to the community,” Miller said. “There’s so many women that serve on boards and stuff, and we just really wanted to celebrate them. It’s an age that kind of gets shuffled under carpet.” 

Singer and songwriter Amy McAllister performs during the 50 Over 50 event, Santa Clara, Utah, April 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“Igniting the Fire Within” served as the event’s theme. This was the song performed by local award-winning singer and songwriter Amy McAllister, who was also the subject of one of the 50 portraits. 

“I am a spark starter. I ignite the fire within,” The 52-year-old McAllister sang during the ceremony. McAllister’s stature is petite, but she said as far as she is concerned, being over 50 is a gift that makes her feel 10 feet tall. 

“There’s nothing wrong with being over 50. It’s actually such a blessing,” McAllister told St.George News. “We have so much wisdom and so much strength and we’ve been through so much in our life. I think we’re closer to who we are meant to be at this age. And I think we’re just starting living our best life.”

As proof, McAllister noted getting honored at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville last year at an independent music awards ceremony and seeing her music spread worldwide.

“I am living my biggest child childhood dreams,” McAllister said. “It’s never too late to be who you’re meant to be. It’s never too late to start new dreams and age is just a number.”

Each portrait displayed was accompanied by a placard that included both a biography of the person pictured as well as their words to live by and advice. It tells stories of perseverance, growth, pitfalls and risings.  

One of these women was Celece Krieger, whose travel industry work ceased during the pandemic causing a career change late in life. But she rose in two years from a part-time sales position to the head of Mina Boutique in downtown St. George.

A portrait of retired teacher Beverly Brimley, widow to Wilford, was shown as part of the 50 Over 50 event, Santa Clara, Utah, April 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Ivine Fraiha Clark, 78, is still going strong running a music academy and writing books with her Ph.D. in music. 

Cecelia Moser Fife died last year after teaching high school for 34 years and raising three children, including Averett. 

Beverly Brimley talks in her “words to live by” about being a good example to her loved ones dealing with the heartbreak of losing her husband and well-known actor Wilford Brimley nearly four years ago. 

McAllister even got her mother-in-law involved, who she calls her “bonus mom.” She holds back emotions as she talks about the night Miller and Averett did her portrait.

“I actually saw how special and how beautiful of an experience this was for my bonus mom, Liz Ovard,” McAllister said. “I was at her house and she just was shining extra bright. She’s always happy, but on this particular night, she was just so happy and she was shining brighter, shining differently.”

The 50 Over 50 Portrait Series is an offshoot of an idea that sprouted in photo studios on the East Coast and has spread nationwide. Photo studios around the country are sharing the photos in one big nationwide 50 Over 50 project. The two photographers based in Santa Clara said they plan 50 Over 50 to be an annual event and are eager to take on women over 50 who want to have their likeness immortalized.

Attendees at the 50 Over 50 event look over portraits of 50 women in places of honor, Santa Clara, Utah, April 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But Averett and Miller said they knew it would take a lot of courage for the women to go before the camera. So two of the 50 Over 50 in Southern Utah are themselves. 

“We like to be behind the camera, but if you’ll notice, we both have our portraits out here because we couldn’t expect our subjects to go through this without us knowing what it felt like,” Miller said. “Any woman that gave us their information wanted it badly, sometimes they weren’t allowing themselves to go through with it. But this wasn’t in vain. That it is something that shows our worth.”

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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