Donna Buckley, a beautician, brings far more to her job than the many years of experience she has enjoyed as a professional hairdresser and manicurist. She is the owner/operator of Senior Set Hair Care at Saranac Village at Will Rogers.
Tucked into this vast building complex, her cozy shop is a social gathering place and frequent destination, not only for residents of this senior residential facility but for outsiders as well. Donna estimates that clients from outside Will Rogers account for about 50 percent of her business.
Though raised in the North Country, she has lived for several years in Texas, Ohio and Florida. As a young child, she grew up in Redford. Wherever she later traveled, this village and its beautifuly stunning, Assumption of Mary church were never far from her thoughts. At the age of twelve, Donna moved with her family to South Colton where she attended high school at Colton Pierrepont Central School. When it came to deciding on a career, like so many of us, she did not make her choice based on any solid line of reasoning but on an impulse. Her mother wished her to become an English teacher, but a "passing" boyfriend wanted Donna to be a hairdresser, believing that line of work would leave her less exposed to men's evil intentions. Peer pressure being what it is, she chose the latter profession. As sometimes happens, decisions made for the wrong reasons turn out, after all, to be good ones. Ironically, however, her boyfriend never could have imagined that by 2010 her business clientele would be about 25 percent male.
Donna first met her future husband, Richard Buckley, when she was but 13 years old. After high school, he went into the Marines, serving for two years. She attended Harper Methon School of Beauty in Rochester, receiving her degree in 1967. In December 1968, when Richard was home on leave just before going to Vietnam, they married. The ceremony was held in Redford in the gorgeous church she loved so much, Assumption of Mary.
They bought a home and settled down in Raymondville. Donna opened her own beauty shop, Richard became a mason. In 1970, their son John was born. Ten years later, because he was young, energetic and preferred to work year-round, Richard expressed a desire to move to a warmer location where work was possible in winter as well as summer. They sold their house and most of their belongings, took with them only what would fit in a white Oldsmobile, including John, who was 8 years old, and moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, not knowing if they would find work there or not. "I was young then," says Donna, "whatever came along, you kind of went with the flow." She loved the novelty of living by the ocean and found the location beautiful.
They stayed almost two years, both finding work in their respective fields. This was followed by a move to Ohio. There, for the only time in her life, Donna actually took several months of vacation as Richard was making good money working with firebrick. "It was wonderful," she recalls, but it cost her professionally. At that time, the use of blow driers and curling irons was just becoming popular and it was a couple of years before she was able to catch up with these new methods.
In 1982, they moved back to the Adirondacks, settling at Merrill's Corners near Loon Lake. Richard continued masonry, working for the union, and received unemployment pay in the winter (something he didn't want to do when younger). Donna was employed by various beauty shops in Saranac Lake until one day she saw an ad in the paper. Saranac Village at Will Rogers was looking for someone to open a beauty shop in the building.
"Like lightning," Donna says, "I knew that was where I wanted to be."
She was hired to run her own independent business but it was another two years until the building was finished and she could begin.
What skill did Donna bring to this business that few others do so well? That skill which she brought to her business is especially welcome to her senior clients:
She knows how to listen.
"I had always worked best with older people. It is because I find their stories fascinating. I am a good listener because I like to listen rather than talk and am always interested in hearing more. Perhaps it is because my grandmother was my favorite person and I always loved listening to her. I am not a big talker."
When she arrived, her new space was empty with just a couple of pipes sticking out of the wall. It had been some kind of X-ray area, she believes. She had fun designing the space to her own specifications. Her shop, with cream walls and flowered trim, silk flower arrangements, plants, a fish tank, magazines and rugs, offers a warm welcome to those who visit. Often people are as much in need of social contact as they are in need of a haircut. She tells them they are welcome to just come and talk. "That's why I have a rocking chair here. It is so people can come in and sit down; they don't need to have a haircut."
On the job, Donna styles hair and gives manicures. Off the job, she has many other interests. "I love all kinds of craft work: flower arrangement, embroidery, crocheting, knitting, cross-stitch, latch-hooking rugs and bead work." What does she do with all her creations? She gives them away; some to her family, a lot to those in need. For instance, she knits and stuffs toy animals for children admitted to the hospital and for children in women's shelters, or she makes prayer shawls for folks in nursing homes. In the photo shown here, she displays one of her embroidered crib sheets.
Still full of energy, Donna also makes time for flower gardening and landscaping around her home. She loves to be outdoors. The only regret she has about her present work place is the lack of windows.
In 2008, Donna's husband Richard died after a 10-year illness. Hard as this has been, she feels fortunate that her two sisters, her son John and his wife and three grandchildren ages, 8, 12 and 15, all live close by. Donna sees the grandchildren almost every day. John, following in his father's footsteps, is a mason. Religion has sustained Donna through the hard times and she is close enough to Redford to attend services at her favorite church, the Assumption of Mary. "It is a beautiful and nostalgic place."
To be in Donna's presence is to feel she cares about you. Her ability to listen is the perfect complement to her hairdressing skills. Both provide a physical and mental lift, helping folks feel better about their lives.