Elsie Cook reached a birthday milestone when she turned 100 last month, and while she now lives in another state, she said she formed some of her fondest memories while living in Geneva more than 70 years ago.
“They’re wonderful people,” she said of those she knew in Geneva. “Everyone was very gracious and loving.”
Cook, who now resides in an assisted living home in Beaver Dam, Wis., moved in the 1930s to Geneva, where she worked as a beautician. She started out working at various beauty shops, including Eva’s Beauty Shop, and also worked alongside her sister, Florence. She eventually came to own a beauty and exercise salon – a cutting-edge business at the time.
Cook’s nephew, Armin Blaufuss, said some people might remember her shop on the corner of Anderson Boulevard and State Street in Geneva. Her family lived in the house on the corner, and the business was run out of a front porch add-on.
The exercise machines Cook offered weren’t common at the time. Many of them were vibration machines, and Cook said she made sure to remind those using the equipment to keep their arms above their heads.
But hair-styling talent ran in the family. Cook’s mother, Annie Erickson, was a beautician in Sweden, where Cook’s family came from. Cook, who was born in Lily Lake, was the first child in her family to be born in the United States.
She said some of her clients in Geneva included the owner of The Little Traveler and the Mill Race Inn.
Harry Hanson was the mayor of Geneva for a period when Cook lived there, and she said she was close friends with his wife, Julia. Susie Cothran, one of Cook’s three daughters, said her first job was cleaning the Hansons’ home.
But when it came to her customers, Cook said they were all her favorites.
Cook remembers shorter hair styles being popular when she was a beautician in the 1930s and 1940s, but she said she had one customer with hair down to the floor. Also popular were perms – a process that required a large shield with long electric cords around it.
“It was bizarre,” Cothran said. “It was like from Mars.”
Growing up, Cook’s family spoke mainly English. Blaufuss said her parents switched to Swedish only when they wanted to have a private conversation, or when her mother sang.
“My mother sang beautiful hymns every morning in Swedish,” Cook said. “On Sunday afternoon, we all sang.”
Cook’s family attended Lily Lake Lutheran Church and Geneva Lutheran Church while they lived in the area.
“I loved living there,” Cook said. “I loved wherever I lived. God was with me always.”