Gayle Novak was looking to try something new.
The restaurateur and philanthropist of more than 25 years could put together a charity event with her eyes closed. In 2018, she was looking for a challenge—Novak’s restaurant, Zane’s Italian Bistro in the Denver Tech Center, was being run by her son and she suddenly found herself with more free time. Better yet, she wanted to find something that harkened back to her childhood love of performing.
She Googled “things to do for women over 60” and the Ms. Colorado Senior America pageant popped up, which she quickly dismissed. But within two days after the search, two previous pageant queens visited Zane’s Italian Bistro and convinced her to join the throng.
Novak’s background in philanthropy and feminism (more on that later) helped her to clinch the Colorado crown—and to move on to become Ms. Senior America 2018. We hear her overall-clad performance of “Money, Money, Money” from Mamma Mia! helped a bit, too.
Winning gave Novak something special: sisterhood. “I didn’t have any sisters growing up,” she says. “Now it feels like I have a wonderful group of them to rely on.”
The pageant, Novak can attest, is more than just a tight-knit community. The Senior America, Inc. nonprofit focuses on doing good, and celebrates women who use their pull to impact their surroundings. “The crown has given me more confidence in that,” says Novak. “People want to meet you when you have this title.”
In years past, she’s worked with several state-level and national charities, such as Volunteers of America, and has partnered with the likes of Frankie Valli, Wynonna Judd and Donny Osmond. Among the charities Novak works with today is Bessie’s Hope, which pairs seniors with at-risk teens in a mentorship program. She also often speaks at school assemblies. “I’ll ask who wants to do something that they’re afraid of doing, and there’s always a kid in the back that raises their hand,” says Novak. “I tell them to get out and do it.”
The Englewood resident follows her own advice in the restaurant business. Years back, Novak set out to change the male-dominated industry by making her restaurant at the time, Summit Steakhouse, 100 percent female-run.
A message she hopes to share with women in her age group is that, sometimes, only you are the catalyst to change. “Being over the age of 60, you’ve gone through so much—bad economies, good economies, teenagers that were a pain in the neck,” says Novak. “I wish I had known then that things don’t always change [on their own].”
If Novak has learned one thing from her years as a mother, grandmother, philanthropist, restaurateur and now pageant queen, it’s that anyone—but especially women over 60—can “get up, get out and reinvent themselves.”