Mark and Melanie Jasper did something on a recent Thursday morning that they hadn’t done in more than a year.
They got their hair cut.
“We decided to grow our hair out and donate it in honor of my sister Gretchen (Linden) who died of ovarian cancer in January 2014,” said Melanie, 59, of New Baden. “This is a good part of the grieving process.”
They were inspired by niece, Maddy Linden-Swafford, who shaved her head. The Jaspers just went in a different direction.
Never miss a local story.
“The couple met hairstylists Cynthia Bruner, owner of Salon Nouveau in Mascoutah, and Christina Challis, of Hair Saloon for Men in Fairview Heights, who donated their time so the Jaspers could donate their hair to children with hair loss, a nonprofit that makes wigs for kids.
“Gretchen was two years younger, 56 when she passed,” said Mel. “She lived in St. Peters, Missouri. She loved kids. She ran a daycare out of her home when her daughter was young. I think she’d be pleased we are donating to something that has to do with children.”
Mel’s long blonde hair, parted on the side, was tucked neatly behind her ears. Mark’s gray locks framed his face, reminding you of a figure from the Bible. The U.S. Army veteran was awarded a Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster after serving 14 months in Vietnam.
“When I first got out of Vietnam in 1970, I let it grow long,” said Mark, 65, who had several careers in the legal field, from store security to paralegal to the Food and Drug Administration. “It was a different color then. It was black. I have always had the moustache. I figured I might as well grow a goatee in case people didn’t know if I was a boy or a girl.”
In the growing race, Mel was the turtle and Mark was the hare.
“After a few months of his growing out, I figured I might as well do it, too,” said Mel, a retired budget analyst who worked at Scott Air ForceBase. “I was already halfway there. Mine grows very slowly. His was ready. He had to wait for me.”
During the process, Mark bundled his into a ponytail to keep it out of his face. Mel noted that the longer hers grew, the less body it had.
“I got to the point where I didn’t fix my hair; I fixed his instead,” she said. “He liked the french braid where it took the (rubberband) pressure off his scalp.”
The Jaspers liked that the nonprofit accepts gray and color-treated hair.
“And they only want 8 inches when others want 10 inches,” said Mel. “I’ve been told by two people that the organization will give a child a free wig every year as long as they need it or till they are 18.”
Mark and Mel both retired seven years ago. They like traveling — they’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona — and dining out. Favorites include Red Lobster, Bella Milano and Popeye’s in St. Rose.
“We’re going to Andria’s tomorrow,” said Mark.
Stylists gathered Mel and Mark’s hair into six or seven small ponytails, cut each one, measured and put them in Ziploc bags. The Jaspers were relieved when rulers measured more 11 inches.
Mark looked in the mirror after his ponytails were gone.
“ I feel cooler. There goes my hippie status.”
But he wasn’t finished. He had his head shaved, along with his moustache and goatie.
“I’ve only had my moustache off one time in 20 years since I’ve been married,” he said as it disappeared.
His wife’s comment: “I’d rather he keep the moustache, but it’s his face.”
Cynthia gave Mel a contemporary shag, planning to add dimensional color and texture.
“We are going to leave that wispy at the neckline,” said Cynthia. “I can’t wait to get my hands in there to style it.”
“I looked up on the Internet ‘hair styles for women over 50’ and emailed to my phone to show Cynthia. I am going to be 60 in August. I figured maybe I should go shorter ... wow, is that short.”
“I think you are going to have fun with it,” said Cynthia. “You are going to love playing with it.”
“You look good, Mel,” said Mark.
“You look young, vital,” said her stylist.
“I’ll take that,” said Mel.