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by Mike Avitt
It is common for farms to be passed to children and grandchildren, but less common for retail or service businesses. Iris’s Beauty Salon is one of those rare enterprises that has thrived for seventy-one years in the same location with the same family ownership.
Iris Culbertson was born in Knowlton in 1924. As a young woman, Iris married Ivan J. Brown and they had a daughter, Cathy. Ivan lost his life serving his country in World War II. Iris married Deane Norris in 1946 and they were blessed with another daughter, Sherry. While living at 603 E. Madison in Mount Ayr, Iris converted the family living room into a beauty shop and opened Iris’s Beauty Salon in April 1951.
Cathy and Sherry grew up in the shop and Cathy decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. After graduating from Mount Ayr High School in 1961, Cathy enrolled in the Iowa School of Beauty for two years, leaving as a licensed cosmetologist. Cathy worked in Des Moines briefly, then returned home to join her mother in the shop at Mount Ayr.
Cathy’s presence brought in a younger crowd and an addition was built onto the northeast corner of the house in the winter of 1964-65 to accommodate the growing business. Iris and Cathy often traveled together to cosmetology events such as conferences, conventions, lectures, awards banquets, and demonstrations. They also hosted demonstrations in their own salon. In the late 1960s, a trailer house was attached to the east side of the house as more room was needed.
As the years went on, the pair amassed friends and awards. Cathy served as President of the Iowa Cosmetology Association, now called the Cosmetologists and Barbers of Iowa, in 1986-88, as well as serving as state historian for ten years. Cathy and another cosmetologist put together a publication entitled “Iowa Style” in 1989. This publication finished second in a nation-wide contest sponsored by the National Cosmetology Association. A great number of awards, certificates, and citations adorn the walls of Iris’s Beauty Salon. Near the end of her career, Iris received an award for being an active member of the Cosmetologists and Barbers of Iowa for fifty years.
Iris had the pleasure of working with her daughter but also her granddaughter, Allison, for two years. Sherry Hymbaugh worked at the shop for ten years and Shelly Wimer is still adding to her years at the salon. Shelly graduated from Mount Ayr High School in 1985, got married, and started work upon her return from her honeymoon. That’s thirty-seven years and counting.
Iris entered Clearview Home in 2012 and passed away on August 4, 2016. She had married Sam Osborn in 1960 and he passed in 2006. Cathy married Dennis Ward in 1967 and he passed away on April 13, 1994.
Cathy had the trailer home removed shortly after Iris went to Clearview. There are still three rooms in the house occupied by the salon. And there are more services offered now than were available in the 1960s and 1970s.
So, is retirement on the horizon after fifty-eight years at the beauty shop? “My body wants to retire but my heart wants to keep going,” says Cathy. “We haven’t made a decision, yet.” The decision is understandably difficult when one considers the life-long relationships born in the salon. Joen Brown has been a customer since 1964 and a friend before that. Jean Willey is another long-term client.
The nature of the business nurtures a personal relationship between operator and client. Cathy shared in the joy when a customer revealed she was engaged or pregnant. Cathy has a great concern for her client’s well-being, not just their appearance.
It remains to be seen whether Iris’s Beauty Salon will continue but we know where Cathy’s heart will always be.