Woman wins Keys conch blowing contest, marriage proposal

KEY WEST, Fla. - A Florida retiree won the women's division victory in Key West's annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest -- and a marriage proposal from a fellow competitor.

Mary Lou Smith impressed the judges Saturday with long blasts on the fluted, pink-lined shell which she followed with a joyous, accepting duet with Rick Race after his onstage proposal.

Other winners included Florida Keys resident Vinnie Marturano, who blew three-toned blasts and a song fragment.

Judges evaluated entrants from children to seniors on the quality, novelty, duration and loudness of sounds they produced.

Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Florida Keys for centuries. Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.

The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation.

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