Brainerd hairdresser cuts out after 60+ years in business: Wgeishofski retires from long career
John Wgeishofski set up shop in Brainerd in the early 1960s and officially retired from the hair styling business July 30.
He just didn’t feel like retiring.
Essentially, that’s what kept John Wgeishofski in the hairdressing business for more than 60 years.
“I had to keep working,” the recent retiree said during an interview Tuesday, Sept. 21, while sitting on his deck, surrounded by homegrown flowers.
The brightly colored plants outside, paired with the hand-painted artwork covering the walls inside the house, represent the multiple faces of Wgeishofski’s artistry.
He’s an artist in every sense of the word, according to Joyce Moran, a client of Wgeishofski’s for over 40 years.
“Artistic with hair, artistic with flowers, artistic with paints,” she said.
Moran remembers Wgeishofski styling her hair as far back as 1976 and as recently as this past summer for one more perm and color job before the hairdresser hung up his shears for good in July.
“He’s just the best hairdresser around,” she said. “ ... I could get it done once, and it would last the whole week. I didn’t have to keep fussing with it. He knows how to backcomb, which very few people know how to do anymore.”
Wgeishofski turned to hairdressing after studying at St. Cloud State University for a year to be a teacher. When he realized that wasn’t the career path for him, he found cosmetology.
“I thought, ‘Well, this may not be a bad profession,’” he said. “And they said it was wide open now for guys to come into this profession, and so that’s what I did.”
Born and raised in Brainerd — and now living on his grandparents’ homestead in Unorganized Territory — Wgeishofski, now 83, graduated from high school in 1958 and returned to his hometown in the early 1960s to set up shop after having worked in Golden Valley for a time.
The Persian Room opened inside the brand new East Brainerd Mall, with a second location later following in the Mid-Town Center downtown.
He also operated Mr. John’s at Madden’s on Gull Lake for a time.
Wgeishofski downsized as the three salons got to be too much. For roughly the past five years — until July 30 — he rented a corner of Halo Salon & Spa on James Street, continuing to welcome his loyal customers.
“When he moved up here, he actually had some customers that drove up from the (Twin) Cities to have him do their hair,” Moran said. “I met one of them, and she said, ‘I’ve just gone to him, and he’s just the best one, and nobody can do hair like John can.’”
Wgeishofski gets sentimental when thinking about the faithful clientele he built up over the decades.
“Wonderful,” he said of his customers, before getting choked up.
Perhaps that’s because he’s had clients like Moran, a retired Central Lakes College English instructor who agreed to write a poem for Wgeishofski’s retirement, outlining his career.
The poem mentions a customer once accidentally left under the dryer. That line is true and refers to Moran herself.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she recalled of the incident. “I was waiting and waiting, and finally I peeked around the corner, and his station was empty. And then the others in there looked at me like, ‘Well, he went home.’”
But to show there were no hard feelings, Moran bought her forgetful hairdresser a forget-me-not flower.
“Every once in a while, I say, ‘How’s your forget-me-not?’” she said with a laugh.
But Wgeishofski certainly won’t forget his clients any time soon, nor the legacy he created. His son Rory owns JETÉ Salon & Co. in Alexandria, and both daughters Sheila and Anissa have dabbled in cosmetology as well.
The decision to retire, though, had more to do with his health than anything else, as he’s a prostate cancer survivor who also lives with arthritis and diabetes.
“So I have three strikes going there, but I think I’ve licked them all,” he said.
While hairstyling may be in the past, Wgeishofski still has his other forms of art — painting and floral arranging.
The painting came at a late age, a hobby not realized until the age of 70, when client Vickie Reph convinced Wgeishofski to accompany her to art class.
“I just fell into that. I just loved it,” he said. “... And somehow I must have done all right with it because I had shows in Brainerd and Aitkin.”
Wgeishofski was a featured artist at The Crossing Arts Alliance in 2019 and boasts several awards from shows at the Jaques Art Center in Aitkin. A batik-style work called “Pelicans on a Sandbar” earned a third-place ribbon and a People’s Choice Award. With a mixture of watercolor paints, wax and a little ironing, the painting stands out among the other vibrant works in the artist’s home.
Some of the flowers around the outside of the house will be on display Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Northland Arboretum, as Wgeishofski plans to make the table arrangements for his retirement party, set for 1-3 p.m. that day.
The eight he needs for that celebration should be easier than the 22 he crafted recently for his son’s wedding.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said, adding that his flowers have also captured numerous awards at the Crow Wing County Fair for years.
While Wgeishofski still has his flowers and painting, he also retains the close friendships he’s made in the hairdressing business over the past 60 years, as, in Moran’s eyes, he’s more like a friend than solely a hairstylist.
For John, by Joyce Moran
I’m tucking away all the brushes and combs,
The shampoos, conditioners, memory foams,
Packing that old jar of Dippity-Do.
(I’m sure some of you will remember that goo.)
I’ve cut every cut; I’ve styled every style.
Yes, hairstyles do change every once in a while.
It’s time to forget the hairspray and the dryer.
It’s time for this tired old bod to retire.
Too long I’ve depended on Pure Biofreeze
To dull all the pain that creeps into my knees.
It’s time to put all the reminders away
So I won’t find myself being tempted to stay.
As I pack up my gear with a tear in my eye,
It’s hard to believe this is really goodbye.
Were the years always perfect? Well, I’m not a good liar.
I once left a customer under the dryer.
I’m grateful that someone did comb out her hair,
But everyone wondered why I was not there.
That probably isn’t known as my finest career hour
(The next week she brought me a forget-me-not flower).
A very big thank you to all of my friends
As my sixty some year career finally ends.