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The 50-year-old prom queen
June 23, 2009

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As an overweight teenager, Rexenne "Rex" Robinson of Duncansville never wanted to go to the prom.

"I was worried about getting a dress," she said. "But as I got older, and especially when my daughter went to the prom in 2001, I thought, 'Oh, I should have done that.'"

On May 16, Robinson got the chance to relive the night she never had as a senior at Altoona Area High School in 1977. Her daughter, Holly Hopkins of Spring Mills, organized a prom for Robinson as a surprise celebration for her 50th birthday.

"In January, I had just started planning a party," said Hopkins, 25, "and we went to one of her friend's 50th birthday parties in February, and all of her friends were saying they never went to the prom. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be neat to have everybody dress up?'"

And dress up they did - Hopkins took her mom shopping for a dress, under the guise that they were going out for a fancy dinner for her birthday.

She took her to hair and nail appointments and a professional photo shoot.

"She just does everything for everybody," Hopkins said of her mother. "She deserves something for herself."

To get her mom to a photo studio, Hopkins reminded her that they hadn't had their photos professionally done in years.

"That's how she fooled me," Robinson said with a laugh.

Robinson's best friend, Phyllis Ciambotti of Tyrone, helped Hopkins organize the party.

Ciambotti found a copy of Robinson's senior yearbook and looked up the senior class colors, flower, poem and prom theme - "Stairway to Heaven" - to create a "prom program" as a keepsake.

"She was just speechless," said Ciambotti, 50. "It was so nice to see her face light up."

Hopkins blindfolded her mother before taking her to "dinner" - then escorted her into the Buccinese Society in Altoona, where 77 friends and relatives were waiting inside. Robinson's uncle Joe George had brought his band, Half Tempted, to perform for the evening as a birthday gift.

"I walked in and they said, 'Rexenne, welcome to your prom,' and I just - oh, God, I couldn't believe it," Robinson said.

There was a decorated arch under which partygoers had their "prom photos" taken, and Robinson and her husband, Bob Robinson, were crowned king and queen of the prom. A dinner of spaghetti and meatballs was served, and, just like the prom, there were cookies and punch.

"It was just indescribable," Robinson said. "When I think of that night, I think I was in shock the first half of the night. But I've had a smile on my face ever since."

It's a welcome change from the weeks leading up to her birthday - she'd been dreading the half-century mark.

"Just to be, you know, getting older, to be turning 50," Robinson said. "It was like, 'How can I be 50?' ... But I have so much going for me - how can I be depressed. Seeing everybody all dressed up and knowing that that many people would support me - just to know that I had that kind of support ... it was amazing."

Mirror Staff Writer Ashley Gurbal is at 946-7435.

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