VIENNA - After more than 30 years as a beautician, Gail Harris has decided it's time to move on.
Harris, who has worked as a beautician at the J.C. Penney Styling Salon in Grand Central Mall for 28 years, said she began her career at the store on St. Patrick's Day and she will leave the store on the same day - today.
"Not many people get to retire on their anniversary date," she said.
Gail Harris, right, works on the hair of Cate Jarrell, left, as her mother, Tonya Jarrell, center, watches. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
Harris said she plans to wear a keepsake she got on her first day at work.
"The first girl who greeted me crocheted a shamrock," she said. "I still have it and I plan to wear it today. I wear it every year."
Harris said she did not originally plan to retire on St. Patrick's Day, it just happened that way after the company offered her and others an early retirement plan.
"What happened was the company offered all of us who worked there for more than 20 years and over 55 years old the Voluntary Early Retirement Program," she said. "It was a no brainer for me; the timing was fantastic for me."
However, she was originally set to retire Sept. 30.
"Many of them who started around the time I started left in January and others were to leave later," she said. "I asked why mine was so late and I wanted to see if I could go earlier. When I was waiting to speak with them and I looked at a calendar and it was like a light bulb came on. I just found out a month ago I'll get to leave early.
"As soon as I got the approval I've had a smile on my face."
Before working at Penney's Harris worked at other places and owned her own shop for a time in the early 1980s.
"I had Gail's Hair Place on Rosemar Road," she said. "I decided I didn't want that anymore. Before that I worked at the Jur Theater Circuit doing a number of jobs. I'm a Jill of All Trades."
After a three-year stay in Long Beach, Calif., Harris came back to Parkersburg and worked at St. Joseph's Hospital as a secretary and in insurance billing and then at Blue Cross Blue Shield in insurance billing.
"Then I went to work for what was called back then the Governor's Office of Economic and Community Development," she said, "which boiled down to I was a tour guide at the Interstate 77 information center in Mineral Wells."
After her first husband died in 1980, Harris said she decided to go to beauty college, something she had wanted to do for a long time.
"Since the children were still teenagers I was able to go financially because of Social Security," she said. "The kids were in school, I was in school and I finally got my license to be a beautician."
Harris said when she went to Penney's she felt she was able to settle in to her new career.
"Obviously I've been happy there or I wouldn't be there 28 years," she said.
Harris said the secret to working in the shop is simple - communication. She said listening is the biggest part of the job.
"Some people come in with a picture and they think they will look exactly like that picture," she said. "Everybody is an individual and every head of hair is an individual head of hair and it's hard sometimes to meet their expectations.
"Communication is the biggest part; once you two have a meeting on what exactly what you want, then you can accomplish it."
Over the years, Harris said she has developed many friendships with customers.
"They become your friends; you just have kinship with them," she said. "After a while you know exactly what they want; you just do it and everybody's happy. You just have a nice visit, everybody's relaxed and they come back. The best reference is a happy customer."
Harris said she expects a lot of customers to come in for her last day at the salon. She said even those who aren't due for a visit plan to come by to let her work on their hair one last time.
After retiring Harris said she plans to do a number of things. She said one is working on her garden; she just recently order 30 bags of mulch. She also plans to travel to see her son Thomas and his family in New York and her daughter Melissa and her family in Pennsylvania.
Another project she plans to work on is one close to her heart.
"I'm a breast cancer survivor of four years and I helped with the 'Look Good, Feel Better' program before I had cancer," she said. "I look forward to getting involved in that more since I now have the time."
Harris said the program is where beauticians, cosmeticians and The American Cancer Society work with the cosmetics industry to help women deal with skin care as patients and fit them with wigs.
"Just like the name said we make them look good and feel better," she said. "I will also be part of the Road to Recovery where previous patients help others with the ins and outs after surgery. They helped me; it meant so much to me that I want to give back."