By: Annie Tokai
Every once in a while we meet someone that inspires us to be better people. Dawn Vanalstine is one of these people.
When you meet her, she is the kind of woman you feel like you have known for years. Her sweet smile and compassionate spirit is something you can feel just being around her.
When I met Dawn, she told me she had lost her mother, Barbara, to liver cancer. Barbara had been diagnosed in 2003 and was told she would have only three short months to live. She was only 56 when she heard the terrible diagnosis
Dawn’s face lights up as she tells me of her mother’s devotion and how she always put Dawn and her two sisters before herself. Barbara had given birth to Dawn at the tender age of 17, so she often jokes that she and Dawn raised each other.
Barbara is described as full of life and had a great sense of humor. She taught her daughters to value themselves, learn to laugh any chance you get, and to give to others…always. She herself followed these values always giving to others, even volunteering at shelters.
Barbara had a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh. Dawn said once when Barbara was talking with her friends about dieting, she reached for a cookie. As she noticed her friends looking on as they talked about their diets, she said she was battling anorexia and obviously winning. All the women laughed. Dawn laughs as she tells me that story; she got
the infectious laugh too.
As treatments started, Barbara faced hair loss. Like many women, she was strongly affected by it. Dawn decided to take her mother to a wig shop and have her fit for one. The experience was terrible. They left the wig shop with Barbara commenting that people who do this job should show compassion and dignity to the client. Barbara went on to say women just want to feel pretty again.
Dawn is a cosmetologist and had stepped back a bit from her profession to be with her mother. Barbara had always said there was a calling out there for Dawn bigger than just doing hair. Barbara battled cancer and, with the help of great doctors and the love of friends and family, she outlived the three months predicted and went on to live for another whole year.
After the loss of her mother, Dawn engulfed herself in her work. One day, shortly after her mother passed away, a woman entered the salon. The woman was fragile and looked to be in her 50s. The woman was soft-spoken and shared little about herself. The only small talk she shared was her name was Sarah, she was from Florida, and her brother was a surgeon at McLaren Hospital.
Dawn gently washed Sarah’s hair and noticed her head was very tender. Sarah said she suffered from terrible head pain. She had thinning hair, and Dawn could not help but think of her mom and how important it was throughout her treatment that she wanted to look good, even as her hair became less and less. After Dawn styled the woman’s hair, they said their goodbyes and Dawn thought she would never see her again.
Two weeks later, Dawn received a call from McLaren Hospital and a nurse at the other end of the call stated that a woman was a patient at the hospital and was requesting Dawn to come wash her hair. As Dawn drove, her mind raced thinking it could only be the quiet, fragile Sarah who had her hair washed two weeks earlier.
As Dawn walked into the hospital corridor, her mind drifted to the many times she had been at this hospital as her mother battled the dragon of cancer. She was on the 11th floor, where Barbara once was in a room. As she walked down the hall, her eyes searched the room numbers; and as she found the room number, her heart instantly felt heavy. This person was in the exact room her mother had been in many times.
Dawn’s hands shook as she opened the door. There in the bed was Sarah looking even more fragile, yet had a faint smile. She spoke in a quiet and weak voice, thanking Dawn for coming to help her. A lump formed in Dawn’s throat. With a rush of emotions, she told Sarah that this had been the room her mother had been in the last time she was in the hospital. Dawn’s heart ached as she realized her suspicions were true and Sarah was battling cancer just as her mother had. Sarah quickly apologized for Dawn’s loss and even said if it was too much, she understood.
Dawn fought back the tears and told Sarah no, her mother planned on them meeting. She just knew it.
Dawn washed Sarah’s wisps of hair and styled it as best she could. Sarah smiled at Dawn and said, “Thank you for making me pretty again.” As Dawn left the room, Sarah’s words rang in her ears. As she entered the elevator, she looked to the heavens and said, “I hear you, Mom; you are sending me a message.”
Dawn returned to the salon and decided right there that she needed to make space for wigs—quality wigs with an area where woman could feel loved, and a private area where even family could come. Dawn found the need for this reached beyond just cancer patients, but also alopecia and many other conditions that cause hair loss. Dawn created a space that was much more than helping fit a wig for a woman. It was a space where she could
help restore normalcy and dignity to her clients. Every time she assists these beautiful women warriors, Dawn loves to see the hope and smiles these wigs give. She said she cannot help but think of Sarah and her mother every time she helps someone. She knows her mother is smiling down as she helps women just feel pretty.
When Dawn describes her mother as an angel watching over her family, I cannot help but notice that Dawn puts in long hours helping others, yet is so humble that if you compliment her she shies away.
That was 15 years ago and Angel Hair Salon is still going strong. Dawn now receives many referrals from local hospitals. This beautiful woman is everything she describes in her mother. She is truly an angel here on earth.
Studies show that retail therapy can increase happiness. When you look good, you feel confident, and you’re going to perform better in all aspects of your life.
Brass Monkey Vintage owner Michelle Cislo is proof of this philosophy and living her best life. Her positive and upbeat mindset and attitude shines in her eclectic retail store located in Grand Blanc, Mich. It’s true that shopping does enhance that creative process and actually relieves stress while providing a social connection.
Established three years ago, Brass Monkey Vintage offers a variety of merchandise—from home goods, specialty gifts and furniture, to clothing and very high-end jewelry lines. Cislo is passionate about every single item available within the store.
“My absolute favorite thing to do is to make people happy because I know how I feel when I am shopping and fall in love with something…that and getting the opportunity to work side by side with my mom,” she said.
Michelle’s mom, Christine Cole, works and collaborates with her and this dynamic mother/daughter duo can truly bring a smile to anyone’s face. When asked how they have such an amazing working relationship, they advise it’s based on compromise.
“It’s a dream come true to get to work side by side with Michelle. It’s amazing. Well that and I usually buy everything she brings into the store,” said Cole.
Often times, Cislo has to buy double in the market place because she knows Cole is going to consume all the merchandise. “Well she gets her style from someone; I like to think it’s me,” said Cole.
Brass Monkey Vintage has an extremely eclectic vibe and Cislo’s vision is to provide outlier merchandise you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. It’s her funky and inclusive vibe that brings customers through the door.
“We have an elderly couple that comes in once a week because they tell us this store just feeds their soul,” said Cole. That mind and body connection cannot be recreated.
Brands like French Candy Jewelry, a specialty line that is handmade out of Los Angeles, are what make Brass Monkey so special. The designer travels abroad all over the globe to get all her medallions, crystals and home goods. Brands such as Sugarboo and Co. and Rifle Papers and Co. provide unique gifts for any occasion. But it’s not just the specialty brands; you can also find that perfect outfit or dining room table.
The sky is the limit in this one-of-a-kind space, and getting to interact with Cislo and Cole…well that is just colorful icing on this very bright and bold cake.