For 35 years, Doreen Gillespie has been coming to work at the hair salon at 1103 Fifth St., Nevada. From 1978 to 1990, she was an employee of the late Helen McGreevey, who hired her to work at Petticoat Palace. In 1990, Gillespie bought the shop, which she has operated as Hair Care on 5th.
This past Sunday, Gillespie and her last two regular employees — Ruth Soseman and Kathy Valline — were joined by friends and clients to celebrate their retirement and the shop’s closing.
The three — Gillespie; Soseman, also a cosmetologist; and Valline, the salon business manager/receptionist — think of themselves as a "happy family."
Soseman came to the shop in 1999 after working at the Circle Beauty Shop in Nevada. That shop was located where the Senior Center now sits and it was run by Lorraine (King) Cook. Soseman said her first salon job in Nevada, after moving to town from Florida around 1969, was at Havel’s on main street. "It was between Dillon’s and Al’s Shoes," she said. "It was a brand new salon."
Valline came to Hair Care on 5th in 2001, after being let go at Donnelley’s.
The three have worked together in the shop for more than 10 years, and they’ve come to know countless clients.
Working in cosmetology is all that Gillespie has ever done. After graduating from high school in Ankeny, she attended the Americana Beauty School in Des Moines. Once she completed her work at the school, she took her first job in Ankeny.
"When I came to Nevada, I wasn’t going to be a hairdresser," she said. She and her husband Lawrence had two children, and Gillespie was planning to raise her kids and not work outside the house. But McGreevey was looking for a new stylist to take the place of Mary Pauley, and she had heard, by word of mouth, about the new girl in town who did hair. "She heard that my husband worked at Mathison Ford, and so she called there, and she got my husband," Gillespie said. So, back to doing hair she went.
It’s been a good career, as both she and Soseman will confirm. When they were young, most of their clients were young, and through the years, many of those clients have grown old with them. In fact, Gillespie said she doesn’t have any of her original clients left; all of her originals have passed away. Soseman is down to one of her original clients in Nevada — Marcella George. "I’ve done her hair since the 1970s," Soseman said.
Through the years, Gillespie and Soseman have listened to their clients’ joys and sorrows and gotten to know their families, if only from a conversational standpoint. The two beauticians have survived through many heavy back combings and big hairdos to come to the present time of more casual styles.
Both Gillespie and Soseman have, over the years, provided a special service that not all hairdressers are willing to do. They’ve both gone to the local funeral homes many times to do a deceased clients’ hair. Both say that, even though retiring, they will continue to provide that service when needed. Gillespie said doing hair for a deceased person is something she was schooled about by her first boss in Ankeny, who told her that you have to go to that funeral home knowing this is the last thing you can do for this person. "You want them to look like they usually do, and that makes the family feel better too," Gillespie said.
Soseman agreed. "It’s a giving thing. This is the last thing you can give to them."
Gillespie, who’s 67 and has been doing hair for 49-and-three-quarters years, said the reason she is closing the shop now is partly to do with Soseman. Soseman, who’s 65 and has been doing hair for 47-and-a-half years, says she’ll tell the story.
"I have bad, bad feet and a crummy back," Soseman said. "I wanted to try to finish out this year if I could." But she had told Gillespie earlier in the year that this was it.
Gillespie, who admits she didn’t want to try to take over all of Soseman’s clients on her own, said she also felt it might be time for her to enjoy her life a little. Gillespie has spent many years of her life as a caretaker, first of her parents, and then of her husband Lawrence, who passed away in 2012. Lawrence had spent 24 years at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown prior to his death.
"Now it’s time to take care of Doreen," she said, noting that in May she was asked to go dancing by a man she met this past year and really enjoyed it. "I hadn’t danced in years." Along with dancing, Gillespie enjoys attending the local Gospel Jams.
Valline, 74, said she has enjoyed her work at Hair Care on 5th. "I’ve enjoyed the people and just being able to be out … talking to people… it’s a very friendly atmosphere in here." Now she looks forward to spending lots of time with family, including three young great-grandchildren, who are active and fun to be around.
Soseman said she intends to spend many hours with her craft as a clay potter. She also does children’s portraits and volunteers for things at her church.
At the urging of their friend Verla Fitzgerald, the ladies celebrated their retirement and the closing of Hair Care on 5th with a nice party Sunday. Gillespie said she also looked forward to visiting with her friend Kay Bromert, who was in town this past weekend performing with the Sweet Adelines quartet at The Talent Factory. At one time, years ago, Gillespie sang with Bromert and the two remained friends.
And, even though retiring, Gillespie said she isn’t completely done working. Back in 2000, she brought a mastectomy business into her shop, which has carried bras, wigs and other mastectomy products and services. She said it was something that, at the time, her mother needed, and when a business that offered the services closed in Ames, Gillespie opened her door for that in Nevada. "We felt there was a need to keep it going," she said. It’s been a wonderful addition to her business, and something she has loved providing.
Now, a local Nevada business wants to see this need continue to be served, and is hiring Gillespie to help them provide the service. Gillespie plans to work on a part-time basis with NuCara Pharmacy to continue serving those with mastectomy needs.