Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 8, 2022

"It's more than a haircut"

On an unusually cool and slushy Wisconsin spring morning, husband Art and I made our way across the parking lot, being careful to miss the puddles. Art isn't much on visiting beauty salons, but this time he wanted to accompany me. Once inside, we immediately felt warm and welcome.

The interior was painted in cheerful accent colors - purples, pinks and yellows. Farm toys, blocks, crayons and other items were here and there, occupying the children of a customer. Hand-made cards from clients were tucked along the edges of the large mirrors. Framed quotes hung on the walls: "Hairapist" "be.YOU.tiful."

Many of the decorations are not what would be found in a typical beauty salon. These three clustered about the thermostat include an eye, a small framed sign that urges the reader to "Choose Happy," and an eye chart quoting Matthew 13:16 "BUT NOW I SEE."

So how did we end up in a salon in Rosendale, Wisconsin along the route we have traveled so often between Art's hometown and our home in Kansas? It was the combination of my curiosity and the name of the shop - The Blind Beautician.

"Why would anyone want to give a salon that name?" I asked aloud on one of our trips. "I want my beautician to be able to see."

The name kept returning to me and it prompted the idea of a column a few weeks ago about business names and whether they appeared to "fit." This one seemed like a bad choice.

But when I did some checking and found Bobbie's clients had given her glowing reviews and had voted it their favorite salon, my curiosity grew. Art encouraged me to find out more.

I hadn't been able to reach Roberta, who is called Bobbie, before my story about business names was posted. But we "met" a few days later on the phone. She shared her story, but there was something about our conversation that made me want to know more about her. There was more to her than just her story.

Bobbie was busy with a young woman when we stepped inside her cheerful salon, but smiled and stopped when I introduced myself. She graciously repeated her answers to some of the things I had asked her during our call - how she had had vision problems throughout her life. She was in the second grade when she got her first pair of glasses.

"I had trouble with depth perception and I could see colors, but it was a big blur," she said.

Her first cornea transplant was in her left eye when she was 12.

"I had to learn to see again because the brain is actually what sees," she added.

Hormones, moisture, sun and wind all "mess with" her vision. She was diagnosed with dry eye and has had several procedures in attempts to correct it.

"One doctor told me I had the unhappiest eyes he'd ever seen."

An eye specialist in Madison eventually diagnosed her with Salzmann's Nodular Degeneration - a condition that causes creamy white nodules to form on the cornea. Bobbie had to have the nodules removed in December 2017 and another cornea transplant in early July 2018. She signed papers for her salon that same month and was open for business in October.

When I asked her why she decided to open a beauty shop, she said she's always been "artsy."

"I also like coloring and photography and I love people."

Before she opened, she and her husband Josh, a local third-generation dairy farmer, discussed what she would call it. He suggested, "The Blind Barber."

She initially told him that was "too mean" and, more practically, she thought it would turn off women customers. But over time, the idea grew on her and she decided on The Blind Beautician.

"Some friends thought it was a good idea, while others thought it would keep some people away," she said. "I decided those weren't my kind of people."

She felt guilty about the cornea transplant, knowing the donor was someone who had died. She didn't know who provided the cornea, but she wrote a letter through the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin to express her gratitude to the family. She received a response on the second day after she opened her business.

"In my mind, that's God talking," she said. "Without that donation, I wouldn't be able to do what I do or drive or see my kids grow up."

After receiving Bobbie's letter, people at the eye bank wanted her to speak about her experience to health-care workers at the annual Douglas T. Miller Symposium on Organ Donation and Transplantation in May 2019. She said she was hesitant because she didn't feel comfortable standing in front of an audience. But as with her business name, over time her feelings changed and it seemed it was something she should do.

Bobbie said, "I bawled through the whole thing and received a standing ovation at the end."

She would give the speech twice. She said health providers don't often get a chance to hear what the impact of an organ donation means to the person who receives it.

She's had the support of her husband, her high school senior son and her eighth grade daughter throughout her various surgeries and recoveries.

She worked throughout the pandemic once it was safe to do so because she knew people needed her services. She made them feel as comfortable as possible by having just one person in the salon at a time.

"God works in the coolest ways," she said. "Our lives are intertwined and I can be a counselor as well as a beautician. People trust me with their news and sometimes I'm the first to hear if someone is going to get married or have a baby. My door is always open. It brings me joy. It's more than a haircut."

Bobbie said she thinks it's important to have a sense of humor, to be grateful and to treat people with kindness. I agree. But there is more to her than just doing what we all should do. Visitors to her shop are more than just customers and if they are anything like I am, they leave feeling the experience was much more than just a haircut.

Top-left: ready for business; top-right: The proud owner inside her shop; bottom-left: front view of The Blind Beautician before last Halloween; bottom-middle: one of the shop's many wall signs; bottom-right: signboard above the entrance. (top-left image from mapsus.net website and bottom-middle and bottom-left image from The Blind Beautician Facebook page.)

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