Denise Latta waited 28 years to pursue her dream career, and she refused to wait any longer to get started.
The 47-year-old from Azle was the first in line to enroll in the cosmetology program at Weatherford College Wise County (WCWC) Aug. 22.
“I was bound and determined to get in,” she said. “I heard there were only 24 spots. I came up here the day before registration. The phones were ringing off the walls, and I started stressing more when I saw all the young girls I’d be up against.
“This is a popular program, and I wasn’t the only one that wanted in. I thought, ‘I’m not leaving until I get registered.’ So I went home, packed my stuff and got here at 4 a.m.”
When instructor Valerie Hopkins showed up for work at 6:30 that morning, Latta wasn’t alone outside the doors of the Workforce Building.
“There were 18 girls in line,” Hopkins said. “I jokingly told them, ‘Honey, we’re not giving away 82-inch TVs.’ It’s a competitive program, but we never anticipated that kind of demand, people camping out. We are so excited.”
Three applicants were wait-listed due to the limitations placed by the state. But Latta was one of the 24 accepted into the inaugural class.
“Something about being a part of the first class in this state-of-the-art facility – that enticed me, too,” she said.
Unlike most of the recent high school graduates, Latta has waited almost three decades for this opportunity.
“I worked in the health care industry for 28 years. I hated it,” she said. “It was not what I wanted to do. Cosmetology is my passion. I like to make people feel pretty.
“When I was laid off earlier this year, I took it as a sign to go after the career I always wanted,” she continued. “And when I heard a school was opening in Decatur in the fall, that’s when I became persistent.”
According to Hopkins, Latta’s “late start” is not at all uncommon.
“I had a student, a woman in her 60s,” the instructor said. “Her dream was to go to school and do hair, but she became a mother early on and had to go straight to work. So when she retired from truck driving, she enrolled in some classes for her personal gratification. She didn’t start working in a salon after or anything. She just took the classes to say she had the opportunity to do hair.”
Although Latta didn’t pursue the career professionally, though the years she has taught herself techniques to accommodate the requests of family members and close friends and satisfy an interest.
“I’d do my nieces’ hair, my mother’s, friend’s weddings,” she said. “I would do cuts, updos, colors, highlights. And whether it was good or bad, they were supportive and would come back.”
With the formal training, Latta said she is looking forward to refining her “self-taught” techniques and is “really excited about really learning coloring.”
The cosmetology certificate program is a full year – a fall, spring and summer semester. Students attend classes 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and after obtaining 1,500 hours are eligible to test for state licensing.
After earning the certificate, students earn 42 college-credit hours that can go toward any degree. An associate’s degree in cosmetology is an additional 18 months.
Latta is considering becoming an instructor, but for now, she’s focused on making a career out of two passions.
“Making others feel good; I love that,” she said. “But another passion of mine is giving back. When my grandmother was in the nursing home, a couple of stylists would go up there and fix the hair of the ladies in the facility.
“Her whole perspective would change for the better when they made her feel pretty,” Latta continued. “Instead of nagging and complaining, their attitude, their whole demeanor changed. It’s amazing how something so simple as having your hair done can make such an impact for those women, to make them feel pretty again.”
Hopkins agreed, pointing out that the WCWC program would look into doing a similar spa day for area nursing homes and women’s shelters.
“Us women, being pretty is what we are,” she said. “That never goes away. What it gives to polish their nails or blow dry their hair. It’s really rewarding for us.
“This is the best career in the world. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it has been good to me since Day 1.”
Never mind the delay. Latta is ready for whatever is to come beyond her day 1.
For more information on the cosmetology program, call Carolyn Jeane, full-time cosmetology instructor at WCWC, at (940) 626-3260.
SALON DOORS TO OPEN IN SPRING
Doors to the Weatherford College Wise County cosmetology student salon will open to the public in the spring after students have gained a semester’s worth of experience.
Services such as colors, cuts, updos, manicures, pedicures and facials will be offered at a low cost.
“This semester they’ll work on mannequins,” said Valerie Hopkins, a cosmetology instructor. “But we are looking forward to opening our doors and letting Wise County in.”