Beauty school still in style after 55 years

Monday, April 16, 2012
Students at McCook Beauty Academy lavish some attention on Gary and Ruth Lucas, center, the owners who have kept the school up and running since 1957. Shown second row, from left, Bonnie Cravey, Danielle Slaby, Jane Carlisle, instructor, Mary Holliday, Jaimie Lapp, Anna Solberg, Hannah Stroup. Back row: Kendal Cahoj, Miranda Jaeger, Megan Schoenfelder. (Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)

McCOOK, Nebraska --Popular hair styles may come and go, but the oldest beauty school in Nebraska is sticking with what works.

Using the same business philosophy it started with 55 years ago, McCook Beauty Academy is still training students at its original location in McCook. But the founder, Evelyn Grubb, started doing hair long before that.

"Evelyn was a pioneer in Southwest Nebraska, as far as hair salons go," said her son-in-law, Gary Lucas, who took over managing the school in 1967.

"Before she died (in 1979), she asked me not to change a thing, and I haven't. That's why we're still here."

Unlike other hair salon schools that are tuition-based, the McCook Beauty Academy is clinic-based, with a major source of income coming from customers who go to the school for beauty salon services.

This keeps tuition rates down, Gary said and also gives students, with an instructor close by, hands-on training right from the start.

"We've been around here for so long, that everybody knows about us," he said about the steady stream of customers. "It isn't unusual for a student to have ten clients per day."

Students who attend come from Northwest Kansas, Colorado and Southwest Nebraska and take classes for a year. By the time they graduate, students have been on the floor with clients and are ready to work full-time in a salon.

Grubb first moved to McCook from Indiana during World War II, when her husband, Collins, was drafted as an engineer for the McCook Army Air Base.

As she had done in Indiana, Grubb set up apprenticeships in McCook for women interested in hairstyling, using in a room upstairs at the corner of Norris Avenue and C, the former site of J.C.Pennys.

She also traveled around the state, to towns like Hastings, Grand Island, Kearney and Norfolk, apprenticing women so they could set up their own shop. Hair styling was one of the few options available to women in those days who wanted to have their own business and Grubb's entrepreneurship proved very popular, Gary said.

In 1955, the state passed the cosmetology law that required licensing and she opened McCook Beauty Academy.

Ruth Lucas, Gary's wife, started teaching at the school when her husband took over and through the years she's seen how hair styles have changed. Ruth said she saw a major shift occurring in the late 1960s, when men started going to beauty salons instead of barbershops.

That's because men started growing their hair longer due to the popularity of the Beatles and "mop tops" and barbers either didn't know how to cut it, or didn't want to cut it, she remembers.

Ruth said she's "seen it all" when it comes to hair styles, with the straight, long and "all-natural" hair in the late 1960s, the blown-back "wings" of Farrah Fawcett in the mid and late 70s, perms and curls in the 1980s, then bone-straight again in the 1990s. She predicts curls becoming more popular, as trends tend repeat themselves.

Right now, the big thing is coloring, Ruth said, with more color jobs requested than hair cuts.

"It used to be, women would only color their hair to get rid of the gray," said Ruth, who, although retired, still can't resist stopping in occasionally.

"Now, we have teens coming in and people changing color like hair styles."

More than 1,000 students have attended the academy and Gary said someday he'll get around to cleaning out the eight file cabinets, full of student records dating back to when the school first opened.

But for now, he'll keep doing what never goes out of style: staying true to what works.

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