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Let’s Cook: Hairdos, rutabagas and more

By Staff | Jul 29, 2016

Consider yourself very lucky if you lived in a home where your mother had her hair fixed weekly. My mom was a fan of regular trips to the beauty shop. The house could have been in tatters; she probably just witnessed her youngest son, Kelly, holding on to the tail of his stuffed kitty while pressing down the lever on the bathroom toilet, and/or noise was ringing out from the other four sons. It was truly a five-son tangle, but relief came with her 1:30 p.m. hair appointment. As she stepped across the threshold of the beauty shop, visions of peace and pleasure greeted her. Before long, warm water and gentle fingers were rubbing away the disarray and within an hour, she exited as a newly-empowered woman with styled hair that could standup to a tornado. She was like a cell phone that had been plugged in for eight hours ready with tremendous energy and a refreshed grasp on life. Yep, beauty shops and hair salons for years have been the saving grace for women who have had to deal with the tangles, trials, and tumbles of life.

Rugby recently hosted an all-school reunion and that brought many folks back to town such as Ruth Ann Halls. Ruth Ann’s mother, Genevieve Halls, owned and operated Vanity Salon from a mint green and brick-trimmed building at 313 South Main. Our conversation began when I mentioned that Margaret Heldt, the creator of the beehive hairdo, recently passed away at the age of 98. We then backcombed our way to discussing how Vanity Salon was started in Rugby and the many hairstyles that were created in this salon. Genevieve Brandt was raised in Willow City and graduated the class of 1948. She didn’t have a lot of time for hair styling because she enjoyed playing basketball and kitten ball. After high school, she enrolled in the New York Hairdressing Academy in Fargo and enjoyed studying at Island Park. She finished in 1951. With her hairbrush in hand, she moved to Minot and was employed at Gilmore’s House of Beauty. Her five years there were enjoyable, and she gained much experience with hair styling-that combined with her friendly personality made her a natural beauty operator. Her marriage to Keith Halls (who had a great head of thick curly hair) relocated her to the farm Overly which allowed her to work part-time at a salon in Bottineau. Before long, Genevieve and Keith moved into Rugby where Keith was employed at Rugby Airport, and Genevieve had the opportunity to open her own salon.

The Rugby Chamber of Commerce encouraged her so she started Vanity Salon in 1957. The salon was upstairs in what was then called the Bucklin Building which is now the H and R Tax building on North Main. In 1961, she and Keith purchased the building on South Main which became the salon and their home. For many years, the black wrought iron Vanity sign witnessed countless homecoming parades, horse shows, snowstorms and starry, starry nights. It watched Rugby firemen called to duty, and once in a while saw a 1966 ice blue Pontiac Catalina being refueled at Wurgler’s Gas Station. However, it treasured most the host of attractive hairstyles completed by Genevieve and her staff which empowered women to press on with daily duties. Ruth Ann recalls Becky Hamby, Twila Weitz, Sophie Badraum, and Gloria Grove working in the salon. Genevieve’s choice of uniforms was white, and she herself always wore a dress. I personally stepped into Vanity Salon on a fall afternoon as I was there to give Maxine Strand a ride. I entered through the louvered glass screen door and immediately felt the deep sense of pride Genevieve took in her classic, drama-free salon and the connection she had with her customers. The scent of shampoo, hair spray, nail polish and the buzz of the dryer took me back to the salons of Underwood and reminded me that getting your hair styled can change a person’s day.

The experience of returning to the same salon and beautician makes for last friendships. Ruth Ann mentioned that her mom was gifted at giving manicures, and that she Genevieve taught her how to do them. It is interesting to note that a manicure in 1973 cost $2 and a haircut was $2.50. These same hands were also good a baking cookies for her customers at Christmas. Her cookie counter which featured homemade, delicious cookies made by her and Ruth Ann was a tradition. Ruth Ann was in charge of keeping the counter stocked and arranged with attractive cookies that wove contentment throughout the holiday season. Plates of buttery, decorated, and cloved cookies nestled around a decorated Christmas tree was most inviting to customers, and this touch had the feel of a hearthside moment. Serving was made easy because the salon and the Halls home were connected.

The Vanity Salon sign saw many cars, but the most important cars were those that were restored by Keith. He had a natural flair for motors, antique cars, oil pull tractors, and especially his 1930 brown Model T which is now on display at the Hawk Museum at Wolford. Genevieve, with styled hair, hosted many a backyard party for the Geographical Center of America Antique Car Club. A hit of this gathering was her rutabaga salad. Ken Stock, then owner of Andrew’s Steak House, was one of the members and he never missed a chance to enjoy this salad. He often could not wait for the buffet. He came in the back door and said, “Gen-where is it?”

Genevieve closed her salon in December of 1999 after many years of fine service. Her well taken care of equipment was relocated to Leslie’s Heritage Salon in Bottineau where it continued to give the classic vintage look. Genevieve moved to Fargo to be closer to her daughter and also to her son David and his family who live in Minnesota. Ruth Ann fondly told me “it is now my turn to give her manicures.” Genevieve was wise to teach Ruth Ann this because now the reflections of Rugby, their home and the Vanity Salon, keep them close as they continue their relationship–somedays hand in hand.

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