Jackson woman reaches her 50th year of cutting people's hair

Monday, June 6, 2005

The first time Eula McSpadden cut someone's hair, it was her own. She was 3 years old, standing on her bedroom dresser and watching in the mirror as she delicately trimmed her little-girl locks.

That was 77 years ago.

But McSpadden knew way back then she wanted to be a beautician. So when she celebrated her 80th birthday last Saturday, she also celebrated the fact that her dream had been realized. In fact, McSpadden has been a beautician for 50 years with no sign of slowing down.

"I get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and walk three miles," McSpadden, still in good shape for any age, said last week. "I'm highly energized. In this line of work, you've got to be."

Her customer on this day, Doyle, is a little uncomfortable by the presence of a reporter and photographer. He squirms in his chair and asks that his picture not be taken.

But it doesn't rattle McSpadden.

"You don't want to be seen with me?" she says, feigning indignation. "I'm really hurt."

"If I was young and good looking," Doyle says right back, "I'd say snap away."

It's an easy and fun relationship -- and her skill with scissors and comb -- that keep her customers coming back.

"I love my patrons," says McSpadden. "They're like family. I've had some of them for 50 years."

She always calls them patrons, by the way. "It's what beauticians call them. They're patrons."

'It was in my blood'

McSpadden, who has worked from her customized shop out of her Jackson home for 37 years after selling her downtown Jackson beauty salon, started professionally cutting hair in August 1955.

"It was in my blood," she says simply. "I had two sisters who worked in beauty shops and the rest were barbers. It must have been in my genes. I didn't get into it for money. You certainly don't make a lot of that."

She would have started sooner, she said, but her husband, Harley, told her she couldn't until they finished raising their daughter, Gwen.

"So I cut some people's hair anyway, I just did it for free," McSpadden said. "So Harley said, 'If you're going to do it for free, you might as well go to beauty school and get paid for it.'"

So she went to beauty school in Cape Girardeau where she learned the ins and outs of the trade. "I've been behind the chair ever since," she said.

Later, she went to work for Lucy's on Independence, where she worked for about nine months. Then, she went to work for Ruth's Beauty Shop in Jackson. She worked two days a week, as were her husband's wishes. But on those nights, she was so popular with her patrons that she ended up working until 10 p.m.

"If you're going to do that," Harley said with a sigh, "you might as well go full time."

So she did. Later, some health issues led to surgeries. That caused her to open up her shop in her home. Outside, it looks just like a regular house along Highway 74. But when you walk in, it looks just like a beauty shop, with barber's chair, a hair-drying station and rows and rows of hair products.

It's a job that she loves, seeing patrons several days a week. Her customers have aged with her.

"Some people come in here with walkers and oxygen masks," McSpadden said. "I feel blessed, really blessed."

She turns her attention back to her patron.

"You're going to be so handsome, Doyle," she says with a teasing tone.

She never gets tired of her job. She never has had trouble staying on her feet, and her back has never ached bad enough to slow her down. She's seen a lot.

"I've sold more dandruff treatment than you'd ever believe," she says.

Her customers truly love her.

"She's an artist," said Sally Burke of Jackson. "She's an artist with hair. I've never seen anybody who can do hair the way she does."

Her daughter, Gwen Nussbaum, has already retired from her career in teaching.

"I'm always kidding her that she can't retire until her grandkids retire," Nussbaum said. "But I think it's great she still can do something she loves so much."

Meanwhile, McSpadden turns her attention one last time to Doyle.

"Doyle," she says, "I've just about got you out of your misery, hon. You're going to be ready to go see your sweetie pie."

As McSpadden prepares for her next customer, she says she will continue to cut hair as long as she is able.

"I guess I'll die with a comb and brush in my hand," McSpadden said. "Maybe the angels will need a cut."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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