Stephen Gilbert said good-bye to 22 inches of hair that he’s been growing for the past five years.
He donated it to Wigs for Kids based in Ohio, which creates free hair pieces for children who are sick from cancer and other illnesses.
“I had a rat tail in eighth grade and started growing it,” said Gilbert, an 18-year-old Homer High graduate. He was going for the Padawan braid style from Star Wars.
And over the years, his black, thick, straight hair drew the envy of the girls at Homer High.
“All the girls at school wanted to know what shampoo he used and how he got his hair so nice,” said Elizabeth Gilbert, 20, Stephen’s sister and a Marist College student.
That would be Axe in the beginning and then Suave Men’s Hair, Two in One, later.
“There’s worse things he could do,” said his mom, Denise Gilbert of Homer. “It’s long hair. We can deal with that.”
On July 15, Stephen Gilbert took the plunge. He got his hair cut at Guys and Dolls Salon on South Main Street.
“There’s no going back now,” he said when salon owner Sherry Spisak started clipping. She lined up pony tails that were 21.5 inches long on the sides and 18.5 inches from the back.
“What are you going for,” Spisak asked. Gilbert pulled out his cellphone and showed images of a fellow with short hair on sides and the top, with a side swath of hair near the front.
Spisak estimates she does one wig hair donation cut every two years.
Gilbert, who spent two years as class president at Homer High and a president of the YMCA Youth and Government Club, wanted to get his hair cut before going to college at Regent University, a small private Christian school in Virginia Beach.
“It’s almost like a first hair cut,” his mom said. “He’s had it so long. It’s kind of sad that he’s not going to have it anymore.”
“Originally, I was going to grow it out,” Stephen Gilbert said. “I figured I could donate it. Then there would be a use for cutting it off.”
When he was younger, he saw his mother deal with breast cancer, and that made him sensitive to people who lose their hair.
He researched the charity. Its founder, Jeffrey Paul, does not charge families for the wigs, said Gilbert. Wigs for Kids requires at least 14 inches of hair, bound up in pony tails, bagged and mailed to the Ohio office.
Paul, a cosmetic therapist, has been helping children who’ve had hair loss with custom wigs since 1981, according to wigsforkids.org.
His 15-year old niece had leukemia and was losing her hair. She was distraught that she’d have no hair while trying out for the gymnastics team. She asked her uncle for help.
He learned to make hand-sewn wigs of 150,000 strands of hair that adhere to the scalp. They can get wet. They can stand up to hardy wear and tear by kids. Paul has a network of workers who create the wigs, valued at $1,800 each.
People who want to donate their hair are advised to set a goal length — at least grow 14 inches of hair, the more the better. And find a hair pro who will cut it.
Gilbert plays guitar, saxophone and clarinet. He likes video games and reading. He’s interested in animation as a major.
Spisak joked and cajoled while working, grateful to be back in business after the pandemic shut her down. She confessed she was going nuts being at home alone, while her husband was working.
“I have to be doing something! This is my therapy session. This is my own private Google here. Anything I want to find out about life, I find out from my customers,” Spisak said.
“I learned how to water flowers to make them grow. I thought you planted them and God took care of them,” Spisak laughed. “Simple things like that. And more you can’t say with him here.”
“How are you doing,” Spisak said to mom.
“I’m doing OK. That first cut was a little rough.”
When Spisak was done, Stephen proclaimed: “I like it!”
He felt lighter, and cooler.
“Oh Steve. Thank you so much,” Spisak said. “That was such a treat.”