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25 years of loving her seniors: Michell Kettner's special job

Posted at 8:40 PM, Aug 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-15 21:40:10-04

NEENAH (NBC 26) — Inside Valley VNA Senior Center in Neenah live people who've seen moments in time that many of us have only read about. And hairdresser Michell Kettner has had the privilege of getting to know them for the last 25 years.

“History walks in my doors every day. They are like history books walking in the door. I have some amazingly intelligent people here that have a lot of wisdom to share,” said Kettner.

Kettner loves her clients, who she affectionately refers to as "my people." She's gotten to know a lot of people who've lived in the center over the years.

“I started here before the rafters were even up," said Kettner. "I was 36."

She said that every visitor she gets brings a whole new batch of stories, memories, and experiences. Some are positive, and some are sad.

"We go through losses; we go through joys together," Kettner said. "We share. We share what's going on in our lives. We're friends and family."

Her job lets her grow very close to the people who she calls family.

“This is a very special position,” she said. "I always say, 'What is said in the salon stays in the salon.'"

But her job didn't exist before she reached out about it.

“I had a little loss in my life, and I just needed to do something more rewarding and happened to look in the newspaper and saw all the services that the VNA had to offer. And it didn't say hairdresser," Kettner recalled.

“So I made an appointment with the vice president at the time and came in, and she called me back. She said, 'You're our hairdresser.'”

In the 25 years that Kettner has worked with her people, she said her heart has grown more than she could have ever imagined.

“They had all experienced loss more than I ever had," said Kettner. "It gave me a little better understanding of, you know, what they had all lived through. They — you know, my people here — they've lived through a lot. They've lived through the Depression when they were young. They lived through wars and losing people.”

Kettner has seen many people come and go over the years. She's loved and lost alongside the friends that have come to sit in her chair.

“Once I get to know them, they're in my heart forever. So yeah, that means more than the hair,” she said.

The small act of applying for a job that didn't exist yet led Kettner to a quarter century of love and companionship that will last forever.

"It really blesses your heart. It just does. That's what I feel like is the most important part of my job: is bringing joy and quality to their life," said Kettner.