Bonnie Knecht was busy Wednesday at Akron’s University Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, doing what she’s been doing there for the last 35 years: operating the one-person, two-dryer beauty salon.
Little did she suspect that after shampooing and blow-drying the hair of 86-year-old resident Doris Orndorf — her always-on-time noon client every Wednesday — something was in the offing that would add even more curl to her own hair.
When Bonnie, who turns 76 today, emerged from behind the curtain into the multipurpose room in the East Market Street facility, there was a party going on. And it was all for her.
Bonnie’s daughter Kimberly Shull and grandson Benjamin Shull arranged the surprise, complete with cake, punch and other treats.
Bonnie — a widowed, petite woman with a neat silver, curly coif — started doing hair when she was 18 and has been at it nonstop, working in other salons before opening the doors to her own Kenmore salon, Steady Date for Beauty. She operated it for 47 years before closing it nearly two years ago.
The nursing-home salon, formerly known as Steady Date for Beauty No. 2, has since surrendered to the generic “Beauty Salon.”
But make no mistake about it, it’s still very special — to Bonnie and to the residents alike. She’s the stylist to the women, doing permanents, coloring, pin curls, cuts, sets and blow-drying. She also cuts the men’s hair.
Activities director Pam Tunstall said Bonnie is the facility’s second longest-serving independent contractor employee.
“All of my clients are my favorites!” Bonnie said, a smile taking over her face. “I plan to keep working here for as long as they will have me … I just enjoy people.”
Among those on hand to salute Bonnie was Karen Elrod, who worked 45 years in her salon.
At 76, Bonnie is showing no signs of slowing down. She wears her age like it’s the speed limit.
She works three days a week, four to five hours a day at University Park Nursing, and she’s also been on-call for the last 20 years right next door at Adams-Mason Funeral Home. “If the deceased didn’t have a regular hairdresser the funeral home calls me,” she said.
Styling the hair of the deceased, she acknowledged, can be very challenging, especially if you had never met the person, and if there is no recent photo showing how she wore her hair, how she parted it or if she wore bangs. “And, of course, it’s challenging when the client is lying down,” she said somberly. “But you always want to do a good job because that’s the last thing you can do to make that person look good for her family and friends.”
Bonnie considers responding to that last call “a high honor.”
Given the party atmosphere rolled out for her, it’s clear that the residents consider it a high honor to be combed, clipped and brushed by her.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.