- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - When Betty Savage began styling hair, pin curls and upsweeps were all the rage.

Now, 58 years later, her clients have grown older with her, and the hairstyles have evolved along the way. The bobby-pinned hairdos have been replaced with a wash, a trim, a style, and every three months, a perm.

Savage always had a knack for fixing people’s hair, and even after recently celebrating her 90th birthday, she hasn’t lost the touch.

She may have the flair for hair now, but it wasn’t until after she worked at Delco for 10 years she decided the factory life wasn’t for her. She enrolled in beauty college and got her license in June of 1956.

Around the same time, her home was being built and her beauty shop was added in the breezeway between the house and the garage. Once it was finished, Savage was open for business.

“I just wanted to have a little business of my own,” she told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1DWTGxg ). “I was home, my own boss, and I didn’t have to pay rent.”

Savage never even had to advertise her beauty salon, because as soon as she set up shop, women from Delco came to get their hair styled and cut by their former co-worker and friend.

Savage worked five days a week in those days, and on an average work day had 7 to 10 customers. It was a great job, especially since she was a single mom.

“It was good living,” Savage said. “I was by myself and I had a daughter to raise. I made enough money to take care of Jill and I.”

Savage’s daughter, Jill, now 55, says growing up, even when they had to stretch a dollar, she never knew it.

“There’s no way I can repay her for everything she did for me and how hard she worked,” Jill said. She made sure I had the best of everything.”

The women who came in Betty’s beauty shop were practically family too.

“All those ladies were like surrogate aunts,” Jill said. “Mom’s sisters. I’ve known these women and they’ve known me since I was a child.”

Over the years, Savage’s customer base expanded from co-workers to her neighbors and friends from church. For every woman who came through her door, Savage made sure to write down their name, address, date of perm, and the cost on an index card before filing it away in a small box. It was her way of keeping track of her customers before the computer was around.

Now, it’s her only tie to the vast majority of customers she’s had.

“That little file box I say is my Bible,” Savage said. “I’ve got all the names of all the people whose hair I’ve done and the dates of all the people who’ve passed away. Plus, the very few I’m doing now.”

Ninety-six of Savage’s clients have passed away since she started doing hair.

“They were my family,” she said. “We had just been friends for so many years. They stayed with me from the time they started until they passed away. It’s just heartbreaking to lose one of them. But that’s life.”

These days, Savage is only doing the hair of the six customers she has left. She works at it part-time three days a week, but it’s those days she looks forward to most of all.

“It makes me feel good that I’m still able to get up and get at it and still have a good time with them out there,” she said.

The ladies who come in have a good time too. Joan Rosselot, who has a hair appointment with Savage every Thursday morning, has been a regular client for more than 30 years.

“This is what we look forward to each week,” Rosselot said. “All that scrubbing makes you feel like a new woman.”

There have been a lot of funny moments in Betty’s beauty shop, but there have been some sad ones too. After nearly 60 years in the business, Savage has seen and heard it all.

“They all had a story to tell,” Savage said. “Some of them were good and some of them were bad and I can’t tell you any of them,” she laughed. “I have had the cream of the crop of women in Kokomo.”

Savage is filled with satisfaction each time she lays her comb down after fixing up the hair-do of one of her customers.

“It makes me feel good about myself because I know I made them happy that day,” she said. “And they look pretty.”

Rosselot says her friend Savage does such a great job with hair, her abilities will extend far beyond her time here on Earth.

“She’ll have a full time job in heaven doing the hair of all the angels,” she said.

As for now, Savage doesn’t see retirement in her future. In fact she refuses to stop unless she has no other choice. She says the fact that she’s never stopped is what kept her going.

“It gives me something to do besides sitting in that chair all day long,” Savage said. “That’s what happens to a lot of people when they quit. They just sit down and the party’s over. They’re done. Well, I’m not done yet. I want to keep going.”

Her daughter is motivated by watching her 90-year-old mom’s work ethic.

“I’ve watched too many people as they’ve aged and when something tragic happens, their spirit is broken,” Jill said. “That’s what I admire the most about mom, is her unbroken spirit.”

The few customers she has left are grateful for Savage’s unwavering spirit and go-getter attitude. They say it’s not always easy to find an older beauty operator who can do older people’s hair. Fellow nonagenarian Bonnie Miller has been going to Savage for at least two decades.

“Whatever she wants to do (with my hair), that’s the way I do it,” Miller said. “I’m thankful she’s doing it and I’m still able to get here.”

As she’s aged with her customers, Savage has had to adapt with the constant change of hairstyles through the years.

“It’s changed to the point where it’s nothing like it used to be when I started,” Savage said. “It’s all longer hair now, which is ok, but the older women still like to have their hair cut short and have permanents put in. That’s the hairstyle for younger people, with it in their eyes. If I cut my customers hair like that they’d never come back.”

“Well, your customers are us old people,” Miller laughed.

Savage is no spring chicken either, but she says being 90 and still working doesn’t present very many challenges for her. She’s out and about and on her feet so much that usually people guess that she’s at least 20 years younger than her actual age.

“I had my car cleaned and the boy who washed my windows said, ‘How old are you?’ I said, ‘How old do you think I am?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Oh about 63,’ and I said, ‘Oh honey, I’m gonna love you forever.’ I’ve had people to guess me at 70. About the oldest I was ever guessed was 72. So, I think that’s pretty good,” she said.

Savage is proud that at her age she’s still able to get up, do hair, and enjoy people, but she knows it won’t last forever. So, she wants to be prepared.

“I told Jill that when I leave this world, I want a comb, scissors, and brush in my casket,” Savage said. “And a deck of cards so I can play Euchre.”


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide