Larry LaRue: Lakewood resident has good head on her shoulders

Clover Park Technical College recognizes Elnora Medley, 94, for decades of sharing her time and hair with student cosmetologists

Staff WriterJanuary 27, 2014 

Cosmetology instructor Connie Lind, right, gives Elnora Medley, 94, a affectionate kiss after Medley had her hair done by student Nikia Howard on Friday at Clover Park Technical College. Lind learned to cut and style hair in the early 1970s using Medley as a volunteer.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It was the 1960s, and all three of Elnora and Ken Medley’s sons were attending Clover Park Technical College, one after another.

“My older brother Jim took automotive classes, and I took electronics, and my younger brother Steve took engine and airframe classes,” Gary Medley said.

The woman the entire family affectionately refers to as “Gary’s first wife” was enrolled, too.

She was taking cosmetology courses and occasionally needed a live person to practice on.

Elnora volunteered.

“Back then, it was 50 cents for a shampoo and a set,” she said.

Life went on for the family that had moved to Lakewood from Idaho in 1951. Ken spent 25 years as a mechanic at Fort Lewis, and all three boys pursued their own careers. After the divorce, Gary’s first wife went her own way.

And Elnora?

“I kept going to Clover Park, letting the new girls cut my hair,” she said. “For years, when they had their state boards, they had to have a live model accompany them -- and I did that 31 times. Some of those girls were just like my kids ...”

One of those “girls” was Connie Lind.

“I came here when I was 18 — a long time ago — and the state boards were held twice a year, once in Seattle and once in Spokane,” Lind said. “I didn’t want to wait, so I asked her about Spokane. (Elnora) offered to drive me to Spokane in her motor home. That’s how we got there.

“I left Clover Park and worked 25 years behind the chair and then came back to Clover Park as an instructor — and Elnora was still here! I was so happy to see her, but kind of amazed, too.”

Elnora Medley has never stopped coming in for her hair care, visiting at least once a week whenever Clover Park classes are in session.

“When the school is closed, she’ll go to a shop run by one of the students she worked with,” Gary said.

The “boys” are now 72, 70 and 66. All three live within a half mile of their childhood home, where their mom still lives. Ken Medley, the love of Elnora’s life, died in June 2008, just before their 60th wedding anniversary.

Elnora is 94 now, and though she had her usual Friday appointment last week, Clover Park Technical College asked her to come in Tuesday, too.

The instructors, program director and college president wanted to honor Elnora as an “unsung hero.”

In a small ceremony, she was given a plaque and a tribute that said, in part: “Since 1963, Elnora Medley has been coming to Clover Park Technical College’s Cosmetology Program to have her hair done. She has seen the program move to four different buildings, including an old barracks, and transition through the many chemicals and methods to set her perm over the past 50 years.”

These days, Clover Park charges $8 for a shampoo and set.

Will Elnora keep going?

“As long as I can drive, I will, and I can still drive myself,” she said.

She still lets students trim and shampoo and perm her hair, which is now nearly white.

“I never let them color it, and I never wanted to come home looking crazy, but I never had a bad experience,” Elnora said. “Now I go in on Fridays about every week.”

Why Fridays?

Elnora Medley smiles.

“So I can look good for the weekend.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com

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