Katy Gillespie Townsend was inducted into International Educators Hall of Fame for her work as an educator, humanitarian in her community.
The ceremony was held last Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022 at 1p.m. where Townsend was also honored by the city of Santa Ana congratulating her on her accomplishment. The International Educators Hall of Fame honors a wide range of educators focusing on those who have gone above and beyond.
“The term ‘educator’ is used in the broadest sense of the word,” reads the website. “Many are ‘Firsts,’ ‘Pioneers,’ ‘Trailblazers,’ ‘Survivors’ and, they are all considered role models.”
Townsend came from Mississippi in 1965 to visit her sister after losing her husband in a tragic accident, at the time a mother of three young children and three months pregnant. The trip was to last two weeks, but Townsend’s drive led her to find work. After a year separation from her children she brought them to California, but it was difficult. To keep her family together she worked two jobs.
“I worked for JC Penney's for nine and a half years while I was working at Xerox for 14 years,” said Townsend. “So I had two jobs for nine and a half years.”
Townsend remarried in 1985 but had been working at caretaking jobs after retiring form Xerox to care for her ailing father who passed in 1989. In 1995 she visited an old friend in St. Louis, Missouri who owned a beauty salon. Her friend reminded her of how good she was at doing hair when they were younger and suggested she attend beauty school.
This is the moment where Townsend would find her true calling.
Townsend enrolled in the Marinello school of Beaty in Burbank, California graduating in 1995. She graduated with honors but the first few days were rough. She failed her first test, applying relaxer, but learned from her mistakes.
“So from that day forward I never missed a day. I went to school every day for 10 months,” said Townsend. “I ended up with a 4.0 grade average. I was on the Dean's honor list.”
Hair styling has been a passion of Townsends life and she has pushed not only herself, but others as she invested in her education. She obtained her associates degree in cosmetology from Pasadena City College a year later. By then she was learning her craft so well that she was ready to teach but at the time there were no schools in her area offering a teaching credentials in cosmetology. After a three year wait Dr. Jacqueline Jacobs started a program at Pasadena City College and Townsend was certified to teach in 2006.
Over the decades Townsend has received numerous awards for her contribution to cosmetology and philanthropic efforts. In addition to teaching at the Marinello School of Beauty in Burbank for six years she has opened her own salon to students offering them mentorship and an income.
“I would let them work here for three or four months without paying booth rent,” said Townsend. “I would just build their clientele to make sure that they get comfortable and then go work wherever they want to.”
Her professionalism and kindness have led to strong relationships with her clients, and her longevity. Doing hair, her Christian faith and her family are still a driving force in her life. Her recent book, “Faith: My Life in California,” shares what she has learned over the years. In her book she talks about the struggle of caring for others and she says that it was a way of dealing with the loss of so many people in her life. It is also a testament to the kindness she has shown to the people in her life; from caring and reconciling with an ill husband, helping a friend feel beautiful by doing her hair at her home or opening her business to others.
She has been in the same Pasadena location since 1998 and is a part of the neighborhood’s local landmarks and continues to style hair with her granddaughter Latrell Jean Gillespie. For the last 15 years Gillespie has followed in her grandmother’s footsteps.
“I see her every day,” said Latrell and if I don't go anywhere, I still call her see what she's doing, and she calls me to see what I’m doing.”