The Queen of All Sunflowers: From cancer to beauty pageants by the grace of God

L. Gayle Orf, a local cancer survivor, is probably most well-known for her poetry. However, on July 21, she stands a chance at also being known as Ms. Oklahoma. Ms. Oklahoma Senior America, to be exact.

In 2015, Gayle was going through a lot her personal life. In addition to trouble at home she had a knee replacement surgery and was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in the span of a year. The pageant will take place exactly 3 years to the day after Gayle’s mastectomy, which she believes to be a sign of providence.

“Who would have thought that my life would be so different, and so much better, in three years,” Gayle said. “The lord gave me peace in the midst of the storm.”

According to an enrollment pamphlet, the goal of the Ms. Oklahoma Senior America Pageant is to “enrich and empower the lives of all seniors and promote the senior woman in all her glory.”

“The Ms. Senior America philosophy is based upon the belief that seniors are the foundation of America, and our most valuable treasure,” the website says. “It is upon their knowledge, experience and resources that the younger generation has the opportunity to build a better society.”

Contestants are judged on philosophy of life, interview, evening gown competition and talent. Gayle says her talent is divinely inspired. At 71, Gayle is a poet and a natural orator. Her plan is to read an original work titled “Our Standard: The Red, White and Blue,” which previously won first place in a patriotic poems contest with the Fellowship of Christian Writers.

“This is the time the country needs to know the message of the flag,” Gayle said, lamenting what she perceives as a decline in American values and patriotism.

The theme of all of Gayle’s work is divine design, or how nature reveals the Holy Trinity. The trinity can be found reflected in everything, from the object of the poem to the way she forms her lines.

One of her first, and most well-known poems is about how God reveals himself in the sunflower. From this poem, she took her nickname, the Queen of All Sunflowers, because of her God-given understanding A stanza from the poem reads:

“This special flower has much to give / though fragrance she has none. / She teaches us to look above / at God’s own perfect Son.”

In her free time Gayle performs Ukulele and spoken word poetry all over, including the cancer treatment center and at senior citizen’s events. She is available for speaking engagements by request.

Unlike poetry, which has been Gayle’s pathway to God for man years, pageantry is a new hobby.

In 2016, as a means of celebrating their friend’s recovery, the board of the Route 66 Car Club unanimously agreed to include Gayle as a competitor in their pin-up girl contest.

“I thought it was absurd,” Gayle said, only agreeing to take part after a lot of consideration and encouragement.

Despite being surrounded by much younger women, Gayle won third place in her 1940s style day dress with a big sunhat. It was then that she realized the joy in celebrating a long life well lived and that the things that truly make a person beautiful do not fade with age, but grow stronger and brighter.

July’s pageant might be slightly stronger competition than the pin-up contest. One woman competing is a 90-year-old ballroom dancer. Another woman is a former Olympic gymnast who is still practicing her craft.

Gayle has several local businesses sponsoring her entry into the pageant as well as the support of her two sons and 11 grandchildren.

If she wins the Ms. Oklahoma Pageant, she will go on to the Ms. Senior America pageant in Atlantic City, at the same venue as the Miss America pageant.