By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by Holli Hobbs Photography
Age is but a number that often, too many people take too seriously. Why should such a number define what individuals accomplish in life?
A better question is why is it too late for anyone to pursue her dreams? The fear of the unknown–such as being too old–is the Goliath that stands in many people’s way, preventing them from seeing all that they can do.
Some give up too easily and fail to realize that accepting failure does not mean accepting defeat. Part of learning and achieving goals in life requires one to step outside of her comfort zone, trying what could be multiple attempts to accomplish her goal–and that’s okay.
Kathy Paiml was 38 years old when she became a teacher. She was 49 when she beat breast cancer. Now, at age 65, she’s been crowned as the 2023 Ms. Senior Alabama. People, she says, should treat age like wine–it only gets better as the years go on.
Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Kathy says she grew up struggling in school. She hated the fact that she couldn’t grasp reading comprehension and never, ever did she think she’d become an educator.
“I always enjoyed working with students who struggled,” Kathy says. “I struggled as a reader growing up, but I would use myself as an example to my students.”
After graduating from high school, Kathy attended Western Kentucky for a short time before taking a break. She later met and married her husband, who encouraged her to go back and finish her degree.
Kathy went back to school at the University of Louisville and got her associate’s degree in office administration. She worked as a secretary until her children were born and prioritized being a homemaker until her youngest entered into grade school.
While she became a “classroom mom” and worked to help plan functions at her childrens’ schools, Kathy thought it might be fun to be a teacher. So, she did the unthinkable: try again.
Kathy’s family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where Kathy went on to attend the University of Memphis, majoring in education. She became an elementary school teacher and taught in Memphis for one year before moving with her family to Birmingham.
Kathy’s family moved to Trace Crossings in Hoover, Alabama, and it was at Trace Crossings Elementary School that Kathy taught first, second and third grade. She says she loved living in a neighborhood where several of her students lived because she often got to visit with families outside the classroom.
“I love interacting with students,” Kathy says. “You’re a rock star wherever you go.”
During her time teaching, Kathy went back to school this time at UAB and earned her master’s degree in educational administration. She transferred to Green Valley Elementary School and worked there as an assistant principal for several years while she earned her educational leadership certificate from the University of Montevallo and her Ed.S. in educational technology from Lesley University.
Now, three degrees, two certificates and six schools later, Kathy landed her dream job as the principal of Helena Intermediate School in 2013. At this time, she had only been in education for 17 years.
“I always like to continue to learn and to grow, and I think that’s why I always kept going back to school because I enjoy learning,” Kathy says. “It was a struggle for me earlier on, but I enjoyed continuing to learn.”
As much as she loved challenging herself to accomplish her goals, Kathy says she really did enjoy her time in the classroom and as an administrator. One of her fondest memories at Helena Intermediate School was racing students on scooters throughout the hallways.
Kathy eventually retired from education in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like so many others, Kathy found herself wondering, “What’s next?”
“I’ve always loved the special needs community, and I’ve been involved with the Miracle League as a coach and a volunteer,” Kathy says.
She decided to volunteer her efforts with children and adults with special needs through the non-profit organization, Unless U, which is based in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. Kathy didn’t spend too much time outside of the classroom, however, as she jumped right back in helping teach math, character education and more.
“I loved every minute of it,” she says.
Kathy would often visit her students with special needs at Helena Intermediate, spending time getting to know each of them. She says it was one of her favorite parts of her work days.
Talking about individuals with special needs, Kathy says, “They’ve got so much more to offer than people give them credit for. [Working at Unless U] has been a wonderful learning experience for me, too.
While volunteering at Unless U, Kathy learned about the Ms. Senior Alabama organization, which is a non-profit promoting fellowship and service for women ages 60 and older. Kathy volunteered to represent the city of Helena as Ms. Senior Helena.
She competed in the Ms. Senior Alabama pageant in 2021 and 2022, being named the first runner-up both years. In June 2023, Kathy returned to compete for what would be her third and final year, and this time, she tackled another Goliath in her life: bringing home the gold.
Kathy was named the 2023 Ms. Senior Alabama on June 10, 2023, at the Ms. Senior Alabama competition, which was held at Oak Mountain High School. She couldn’t believe she won at first, but as everyone stood cheering and coming up to congratulate her, she slowly realized she had done it–she had achieved what she thought may be impossible.
Though winning felt great, Kathy says her favorite part of competing was actually making so many relationships that she cherishes each and every day.
“The best part about it is getting to meet all of the ladies,” Kathy says. “Everyone gets along really well and supports each other.”
This year’s theme for the pageant was “Dare to Dream,” and what a great year it was for Kathy to have won. It’s these friendships, she says, that really make trying for anything worthwhile.
Kathy never allowed her struggle in the classroom to affect her mindset that she could do it–she could become a teacher. Though she says she was scared at first, she never once regretted the feeling she experienced walking across that stage with her diploma in hand for the first time.
That feeling she chased five more times, earning a plethora of knowledge that has enriched her everyday life. She was also quite anxiety-ridden competing in the Ms. Senior Alabama competitions, but she had so much fun and made many friends competing. If you ask her, it was all worth it.
If one doesn’t dare to step out of her comfort zone–if she doesn’t dare to dream big–she may never achieve what she thinks is impossible. Kathy encourages everyone to take that first step of dreaming big because if she can dream it, she can do it.
Besides, if age is just a number, then trying something new is just another Tuesday, Kathy says.
Those interested in learning more information about the Ms. Senior Alabama organization can visit mssenioralabama.com.