College offers beautiful career choice

Story by Jeannie Stone

Barbara Ward has seen a lot of careers bloom at her downtown Russellville business. Since 1981, she has overseen the education of cosmetology students enrolled in the Area Vocational Centers (Vo-Tech) at 13 area high schools. With the addition of training older students she runs a full house. Anybody familiar with Ward knows that, under her watch, it’s all hands on deck — nicely polished, please. 

The Arkansas Beauty College has 65 students enrolled this year. There are six instructors, as well as an office staff. Ward, a member of the Arkansas State Board of Cosmetology, is proud of the quality of education her students receive and has encouraged students to travel as far as their dreams take them.

“This is a good profession to be in,” she said. “You can take it anywhere in the world. There’s no set pay scale and no limit on what you can make.” She added, “And you can work it around your schedule.”

This is one reason why Ward sees several Tech students go through the college.

“They want to express their creative side, plus they can work it around their schedules and pay for their college education.” It was Ward’s travels abroad that led her to enter into

the business side of perms and manicures. Her husband Charles, who worked in the airline industry, accepted a job in Saudi Arabia years ago, and Ward enrolled in a cosmetology class so she could maintain herself. She laughed. “We ended up living there eight years so I’m glad I took it seriously.”

When the Wards returned to the States, Barbara intended to open a salon adjoining her home off Skyline Drive in Russellville, “but there were zoning laws that didn’t allow that,” she said. Instead, she bought the beauty school.

“I remember wishing I’d learned more through my studies, so I bought the school to improve the curriculum.”

Ward is currently updating the equipment and remodeling the school.

Arkansas Beauty School is one of the top 10 schools in Arkansas according to Ward. Full-time students can expect to complete their studies within a year. Students must be at least 16 years old. Vo-Tech students must have completed 10th grade.

“And if they really apply themselves, most of them are employed within the month they receive their license,” instructor Ana Martinez said.

“There’s no limit on the age,” Ward said. “We’ve had students in their 50s.”

“We’ve also had students that were college graduates, but they moved back to the area because of family or what-not, and they’d always been curious about cosmetology. We’ve had older students who wanted to supplement their income.”

Besides the limitless financial opportunities and flexibility, Ward cites another motivator. “You help people feel better about themselves because they look better,” she said.

How many careers can say that?

Beauticians are an intimate part of the major celebrations in a person’s life. Remember the movie “Steel Magnolias?”

“They bring their children and their friends to celebrate birthdays, and they come on their way to funerals and weddings,” Ward said. “I’ve even seen adults, who’ve grown up as our customers, bring in their children.”

Dover Vo-Tech student Jessica Weatherl, 16, was first inspired toward cosmetology because she and her mother Kathy would spend time together at the school.

“We’d come and get our nails done, and it meant so much to me,” Weatherl said. “I just love working with my hands and having that kind of influence on others.”

Longtime friends Mattie Dale of Russellville and Ellen Warnke of London are two such examples. The pair sits under the dryers chatting away. They’ve been meeting at the beauty school every Wednesday for 25 years, and the rendezvous is a significant part of their social life.

“Most of the girls who come here are looking for a technical career,” Martinez said, “and if the students come both years of Vo-Tech, they’ve completed more than half of their requirements to graduate. We had one student last year who’d already completed by the time she graduated high school, and she had passed her tests and received her license too.”

Martinez explained that students have the opportunity to work on Saturdays if they desire and to participate in competitions.

“If they win a local competition they can go on to the state level and have the chance to win a scholarship they can apply toward the remaining tuition,” she said.

In fact, Feb. 19th is the competition date scheduled at the Area Vocational Center (Vo- Tech) in Russellville to test cosmetic skills.

Arkansas Beauty College offers grants toward tuition.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are Senior Citizens’ Day. Patrons of a certain age are encouraged to enjoy discounts on services.

“Wildflower has a bus that brings clients, and they love getting manicures, pedicures and styles,” Martinez said.

“The bottom line is you’ve got to be good with people,” Ward said.

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