Evelyn Conway had no idea when she was called into work Monday afternoon that when she arrived, she would be given a brand-new car.
Conway has worked as an instructor at Bellus Academy cosmetology school in Manhattan since it opened five years ago.
Great Clips, the national hair salon chain, partnered with Stringer Holdings and Hendricks Motorsports to organize a drawing in honor of Cosmetology Educator Appreciation Month. Out of more than 1,400 entries, Conway was selected randomly to win a Chevy Cruse LS valued at $21,423.
Mark Fisher, owner of the Great Clips franchise in Topeka, announced the contest results to a roomful of students and instructors at Bellus Academy Monday afternoon.
“The whole cosmetology industry is essentially dependent on the schools to instruct and teach and give you guys all the right tools to ensure that when you enter the real world, you serve customers well,” Fisher told the students. “We just want to show some appreciation for the educators.”
Conway walked to the front of the room when her name was announced. She was unmistakably smiling but didn’t speak for about a minute.
“I’m ecstatic,” she said finally after the applause had died down, holding an oversized check representing her award. “This means so much.”
“I couldn’t have thought of anyone who deserved it more,” said David Yocum, director of Bellus Academy, who has worked closely with Conway since 2006 when she helped him open the school. The school was called the American Academy of Cosmetology and Massage Therapy until it became a Bellus Academy school in 2011.
In 2012, Conway was in a serious car accident that left her in a wheelchair for eight months. She said she was not at fault but her car was totaled. After the accident, Conway said, she bought a big car to feel safe.
Then her sister was diagnosed with cancer, and Conway started making the 11-hour drive from Manhattan to Illinois every six weeks to be present at her sister’s chemotherapy treatments. The gas was expensive, she said.
Yocum mentioned Conway’s road trips to support her sister during his speech. “Now she can do it in style,” he said.
The Great Clips team had arranged to borrow a car of the same model Conway would receive later this month to give her a visual of the prize. The car, borrowed from Murdock Chevrolet in Manhattan, was parked in the lot outside the school sporting balloons.
Conway entered the beauty industry as a nail technician more than 40 years ago while still living in Illinois, where she grew up.
She said the most rewarding aspect of the industry has been, for her, the constant opportunity to learn something new and to grow both personally and professionally.
Conway works in both the cosmetology and massage therapy programs at Bellus Academy.
“When the economy changes, you sometimes have to go where the money is, and when you do that, you grow as a person,” she said.
“And the older you get, the more you realize how much you don’t know,” she continued. “So you’re constantly learning. You never stop learning. The capacity for the human mind to learn, it never ends.”
Yocum described her as an entrepreneur, mentioning a few innovative products she’s developed, including gel mascara remover and nail polish remover, in addition to a video on massage therapy that she recently patented.
“I’ve never met anybody who is all about learning the way she is,” Yocum said. “Students stand around her like big sponges and try to soak it all up,” he continued. “There’s just so much information coming out.”
“Working here (at Bellus Academy) is a joy to me,” Conway said. “I love teaching and being with the students and being with David. He’s a great leader. I’ve grown so much working with him.”
Fisher said Great Clips has established a close relationship with the school, hiring Bellus Academy graduates whenever possible into its more than 3,800 salon locations throughout the United States and Canada, including in Manhattan, Junction City, Topeka and Salina. He said the school has the best reputation in the area for producing students who are consistently well prepared to work effectively in the beauty industry when they graduate.
“The level our students are at when they graduate is the equivalent to someone else being in the industry maybe 10 years,” Conway said. “They know how to work. They leave with a well-rounded view of the whole industry.”
“That’s exactly the position we want them to be in because we want them to be successful,” she added. “Because this is their future.”