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'It's bittersweet' for retiring Bemidji hairstylist whose career spanned 40 years

Shari Schnell styles the hair of Dixie Vollen, who in 1971 was her model as she took her beauty school and state licensure exams. Shari retired as a hairdresser Friday, finishing her career just as it began, styling Dixie's hair. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

Her first customer was also her last customer.

In October 1971, Dixie Vollen drove from Bemidji to St. Cloud to be Shari Patterson's model for her final beauty school exam. A month later, she was again her model for her state licensing exam.

On Friday, Dixie sat in Shari's chair for the final time as Shari (now Shari Schnell) capped off her 40-year hairstyling career.

"It's bittersweet," Shari said, noting that some of her customers have been with her for more than 30 years.

Shari's Nymore Hair Care has been in operation since June 1981. Even while working at Looking Glass Salon in the 1970s, she always wanted her own business.

Her early experiences with hair care began with her mother, who as a single mother worked five days a week at Jack's Supper Club in Wilton. Shari would "arrange" her mother's hair before she left in the evenings for work.

When finances improved, Shari would accompany her mom to the Looking Glass Salon. She'd page through professional hair color charts with real hair samples, imaging how they would look on a real head.

She was in the sixth grade in 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Shari said it was a sad time and being in the salon offered beauty in life. She still remembers the smells of the hairsprays, the sight of all the lined-up bottles.

"It was a happy place to visit and I wanted to be a part of that world, that world of glamour," Shari described in an email.

She graduated from Bemidji High School in 1970 and tried attending Bemidji State College, thinking she would perhaps be a teacher. But she dropped out after the first semester and instead began in January at the St. Cloud Beauty College.

She had earned an Ingrid Fenger academic scholarship, which covered the costs of the Bemidji college and most of the costs at the beauty school. Her mother paid her $32 rent and $25 a month for the remaining tuition and supplies.

Ten months later, as she was set to graduate, Shari asked Dixie, her mother's co-worker at Jack's Supper Club and a family friend, if she would be her live model for her school exam. A month later, Dixie again was her model at the state exam in Minneapolis.

"Her mom would be proud of her," Dixie said of Shari today. "Her mom was a special person, like Shari."

Shari's career spanned many trends. When she was in beauty school, curling irons were out of fashion and there weren't any blow-dryers. She bought her first tanning bed in 1983, adding more until she moved to her current location in 1998, operating her business for 13.5 years in a room off her kitchen.

Shari is now moving on to new adventures. She sold her house and car and bought an RV. She is heading south "to warmer climates" to see where life takes her. She plans to travel a bit, settle somewhere comfortable and become a foster mother.

"I feel like I'm being led," she said. "I think it's exciting. Being a foster parent - I can't imagine anything more rewarding."