After 26 years, a beloved cosmetology instructor at Shenandoah High School is hanging up her smock, putting away her curling iron, and retiring.
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Mary Ann Turpin-Elder, who has been teaching in El Dorado County since 1986, will celebrate her last day of full-time teaching on Halloween. However she isn’t going away entirely because she will continue to substitute teach.
“This facility is kind of like my child,” she said. “It will be hard to leave it.”
The popular instructor said she has a family type relationship with all her students, many of whom bemoan her leaving. Allison McGee, 18, said she had been in the program since January. “She does everything for us. I don’t know what I’ll do when she retires. She’s always there to help us and keep us on track. She’s always there if we need to talk about things. We’re one big family.”
A former student, Brittany Powell, 24, graduated last January but still stops by even though she now works as a full-time nanny. “I just love her,” she said. “She’s like a mother. She gives the best advice and is loving, supportive, and caring. She constantly caught us doing things we shouldn’t have been doing. It was a really special time in my life.”
Turpin-Elder said the cosmetology program takes high school students two years to complete but for adult students it’s only a little over a year because they can attend full-time. Most students are from El Dorado County but the course also attracts residents of Amador and Sacramento.
“It’s a hands-on industry and will be around forever. A manicure is still cheaper than therapy. And every socio-economic group uses us. This program is successful because the jobs are out there and you are continually learning.”
She said she is very gratified to have helped so many people prepare for a career and noted that she has trained close to 2,000 people in this county alone. “Probably only 50 percent of those trained actually still work in it,” she said. It’s a competitive field. But those who stay with it are quite successful. Many students now have their own shops and are close friends.”
Turpin-Elder said one of the big attractions of the program is that it is so inexpensive. It’s free to high school students and adults only pay $3,000. In comparison, private cosmetology schools charge anywhere from $16,000 to $24,000 and attending college is far more expensive.
Carla Valencia is one example of an adult returning to school. At 48, she said she is the oldest student in the class. “(Turpin-Elder) is beautiful,” she said. “She makes the class interesting and really gives a thorough answer. She’s kind and thoughtful. She does a good job of keeping the younger students grounded. She doesn’t let them get away with stuff. She follows through. She doesn’t play favorites. There are certain rules to follow and they’re the same for everyone. She’s fair and has a great sense of humor. She even gives us songs to remember things. I will miss her a lot.”
Turpin-Elder says she sees her students as part of an extended family, “and I’m like the old lady in the shoe. All my children have their special needs to grow. I teach them life skills and help them with growing pains, boyfriend problems, and other issues they face.
“The students come up with so many things. All the girl drama. With 65 women in one room, it gets a little hairy at times. One group doesn’t like the other. I try to keep the peace. I’ve had students with drug problems and sometimes there are violent actions. But it’s just part of life. Every day is different.”
Turpin-Elder said she is retiring now so she and her husband can do some traveling and because her body is tired. “It’s time to turn it over to younger blood,” she said.
She and her husband have already made plans to go to the Virgin Islands and they have bought tickets for a six-week trip to Australia and New Zealand, although she said she doesn’t know how she’ll adjust to six weeks of vacation.
But before they leave, she and her students will gather on Halloween for one last beauty makeover session.
Some students already said they plan to cry.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.