1928 - Alderson High School - 1968

 

 

Beth Fields - Alderson's Beautician

Barry Worrell - March , 2014

Foreword

I've been wanting to write this "bio" for several years now, and every time I started it, it was too difficult for me, and I couldn't decide how to present it. Beth Fields was my mother and most people of Alderson knew that. Besides, to present it as just a piece of history wasn't the way my heart was telling me to go. I followed my heart.

Beth Fields was my mother, but was also one of Alderson's business owners for 40 years, and while she was here, she left her footprint on the community in friendship and service .

Mother was born Bethel Leah Kessinger, July 18, 1916 at Willow Bend, W. Va. to Oma and Zella Kessinger. Mother had an older sister, Evelyn, and a younger one, Oleva. She was a graduate of Greenville High School and graduated  from Martz Beauty School, in Huntington, W. Va. She opened her first shop in Union W. Va.

(Left: Beth Kessinger at age 16. Right: First shop in Union. (Click on photos for larger view)

At an early age she learned to play guitar and with her sister Evelyn (also guitar) and her father Oma, (fiddle) played various social events.

It was about 13 miles from Willow Bend to Greenville High School, so she boarded in Greenville during the school year because she had no transportation. 

How mother came to Alderson is an interesting story and below is the account in her own words.

"I descended on the town of Alderson, W. Va. in December 1940. I was a beautician and had a "not too successful" business of my own in Union, W. Va. The state inspector of Barbers and Beauticians advised me there was a real need for a beautician in Alderson, a little town of 1500 population and partly located in two counties divided by the beautiful Greenbrier River.

I'll never forget when the president of the First National Bank, who owned the building, took me to see the place I was to rent and live in for the next fourteen years. He unlocked the door at the street level and I looked up a flight of the steepest steps I ever saw. Aside from the W. P. A. sowing room across the hall, the upstairs had been unoccupied for years. But being over the town's only drug store and in the main part of the town I considered it a good "location". With the cobwebs hanging from the 15 foot ceiling and the bathroom was the only public one in town, I signed a lease. The town welcomed me with open arms and I hardly had time to get opened before I  was head over heels in work".

I can't imagine that mother was the first beautician that Alderson ever had, but I guess it's possible. She could have been the first licensed beautician. Ladies had to fix their hair somehow, be it from friends or do it themselves. The fact was she must have been the only one when she got to Alderson.
 

Right is Adel Feamster and mother. Adel was the first beauty operator mother hired after she came to Alderson. Mother and Adel were BFFs years before there was an abbreviation of "best friends forever".

Left is mother's Shop Opening Certificate from the state of W. Va.
(Click on photos for larger view)

Mother had many friends in Alderson. After all, she most likely, at one time, worked on every lady in town, and got to know everyone. That's was one of the great thing about Alderson. We knew everyone and they knew us.

As I mentioned previously, Adel Feamster was mother's best friend. Another very good friend was Marjorie Flint. Marge use to help out in the beauty shop and the three of them seemed to be together all the time. One time after the shop closed for the day, I came in and all three were smoking. Mother didn't smoke but Adel and Marge did. I was surprised to see mother smoking and I protested. I never saw her smoke again.

With the steps to the upstairs being very steep I remember elderly ladies struggling to make the climb to have their hair fixed. This was probably one of the reasons to move to a ground level location. (Left: Top floor, the beauty shop and residents.

After starting her time in Alderson with a divorce from my father, Gene Worrell, most the 14 years over the drug store were good years with her business growing and making new friends. In 1945 she married Howard Fields, and in 1954 we moved to the corner of Maple Ave. and Lee Street on the Greenbrier side of Alderson where they build a new home of the stone that Howard harvested from his quarry. The area that was supposed to be for the garage was built into a large room for mother's beauty shop.

Note the picture at the left. The ladies will most likely recognize it, but if you don't, it's called a permanent wave machine. Ladies who didn't have wavy hair and wanted it, could have it, providing the risk of being attached to this machine. I use to watch mother roll the customer's wet hair up in curlers and apply a certain solution. Then the customer would move over to the chair under the machine and, one by one, each  curl would be attached to each clip, which had a heating element. Like baking in an oven, the customer would sit there for a predetermined time and the heating elements would dry the hair into a wavy or curly form. The whole process took hours. While we were still over the drugstore, mother won one of these machine in a contest. It was of the latest design and, gold plated! I'm not sure how long she use it, I only know it went with us to the house on Maple Ave.

A device such as this would not be allowed today for it would definitely be classified as a shock and fire hazard.

Lobban's Funeral Home often called on Mother to fix the hair of ladies that had passed away. She never talked about this, and I wasn't aware of it for a long time.

She loved to square dance and she and Howard use to go dancing all the time. Howard had a little building on the farm that looked as if it was, at one time, used as a home. He cleared it out and they had square dances there and they were well attended. I went with them a few times to operate the record player and played the same recording over and over until I fell asleep on a pile of roofing shingles. Mother and Howard were part of a group that was invited to the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs to give instructions in square dancing to the people who were vacationing there. Although the Greenbrier was a famous hotel, it had clientele who had never seen square dancing. Today I wonder how mother found the energy to dance for hours after standing on her feet in the beauty shop for many hours before.

In 1963-64, she completed a 36 week course  "Education 201" "Psychology of Human Development", from Concord College's Extension Department that was held at the Federal Prison for Women in Alderson. This was something she was very proud of. She also took and passed the Civil Service Exam, several times. We thought she was getting tired of being a beautician and was possibly looking for something else to do.

Approximately 1966, wanting to get the shop out of the residents, mother build a separate building on Lee Street, behind Ralph McClung, and across the street from Bud Ballard.

After about 40 years of being a beautician, mother retired, but only from the occupation of a beautician. She worked as a volunteer at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Fairlea, for 19 years. She was a member of the Ladies Circle and was active for many years in various church activities and organizations. She was a member of the Woman's Club of Alderson for more than 40 years.

Mother passed away April 25, 2006, just three months shy of her 90th birthday. That was 8 years ago and I think it was about time I wrote this tribute.

I realize this isn't much of a biography for someone who lived for 90 years. But I'm sure there are a lot of you that knew mother and would share your comments below.

Postscript: Thank you so for you kind words and comments that have already been posted. Your memories of her have given me such joy and you have blessed my heart....Barry
 

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