Glen Rose resident Eva Hanke, 75, has a rich history involving fan dancers, boxers, rescued animals, beauty contestants and actors.
Hanke was born in San Antonio and spent much of her life traveling the country. Her father was a lightweight boxer and her mother was an exotic dancer. They both worked for a traveling carnival.
“Mom fan danced like Gypsy Rose Lee, but she was a lady - like Gypsy Rose. She never showed everything,” Hanke said.
But Hanke didn’t initially set out for a career in the spotlight. It wasn’t until her children were born more than 40 years ago that she even heard of beauty pageants for children.
“People would tell me I needed to put my daughter (Tammy Bistany) in pageants, and I had never heard of such a thing,” Hanke said. “But she loved it. I would tell her, if you win that’s wonderful. But if you don’t, you go up and congratulate that little girl. When I finally told her she couldn’t do pageants anymore, she cried and said ‘But Mama, I love it.’”
In 1972, Hanke started the International Miss Youth Pageant, her own beauty pageant circuit for younger girls. She even opened a shop in Dallas called The Pageantry Children’s Fashion Shop. In the one-stop pageant shop, Hanke designed pageant dresses, offered modeling classes and coached contestants.
She boasts a long list of successful clients, including Debbie Maffet who was crowned as Miss America in 1983.
Hanke also got her start in Hollywood through her children. Both Tammy and her son Todd were in commercials. Their talent agent convinced Hanke to try her hand at acting.
She appeared in commercials, TV movies, and major motion pictures and had a reoccurring role on the TV series Dallas.
“Larry Hageman was one of the worst, the only actor who would not give autographs,” Hanke said.
Hanke finally hung up her pageant shoes after about 12 years, stating she couldn’t handle the stage moms anymore.
“I did it for a long time and it was a lot of fun,” Hanke said. “But it got to where I couldn’t take dealing with the mothers anymore. Can you imagine shaving a little girls legs?”
Hanke said many little girls also had their hair colored and teeth bleached.
She even wrote a book called “But Mama, I smiled!” about the darker side of the beauty pageant world, although she hasn’t tried to have it published.
But with all her star autographs and memorabilia, her prized possession is a simple thank you letter from a homeless shelter in Dallas.
“My proudest thing doesn’t have anything to do with pageants,” Hanke said.
A carefully penned letter dated Jan. 24, 1991, from Dot Brown, assistant director at Downtown Dallas Family Shelter, Inc., graciously thanked Hanke for her compassion and love for a monetary donation.
“People say, oh they’re just gonna spend the money on liquor - but who am I to judge,” Hanke said.
Hanke is also an animal lover and shares her Glen Rose home with two rescued dogs, a pit bull named Baby Girl and a Chihuahua named Coco. And she remains passionate about her love of animals. If she sees an animal out in the cold or being mistreated, she leaves a note posted to the door.
She even takes in the occasional stray cat or dog and finds them permanent homes.
Hanke’s brother convinced her to move to Glen Rose after Todd died of cancer about six years ago.
Although Hanke is retired, she remains active in the community. She even hosted an open house party when she first came to Glen Rose.
“I love Glen Rose more than any where I’ve been and I’ve been a lot of places,” Hanke said.
Hanke also participates in the Shop and Swap at the Somervell Citizen’s Center every third Thursday of the month and tries to keep herself busy.
“I’m retired due to bad health. I thought I’d work until I was 85,”Hanke said. “I’ve been in bad health the last few years and it makes me so mad because I’m an active person.”