Gene Meisner fondly recalls a mentor who taught him all about being a hair stylist, as well as a contributor to the community. Gene will bring both of those qualities together when he and his wife, Johnna, host their second annual cut-a-thon for cancer on Sunday, Nov. 3.
The cut-a-thon will be held at Gene and Johnna's salon, Gene Allen's Hair Studio on Coe Avenue in East Haven, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For Gene, becoming a hair stylist wasn't the career the East Haven native originally thought he would bring to his hometown, but after high school, his mother told him that if he went back to school, she would pay for his apartment.
Soon after, Gene and a friend visited Gal-Mar, a hairdressing school in North Haven, to drop off lunch to the friend's girlfriend. Gene liked what he saw and enrolled.
"I loved it right off the bat. It was a lot of fun," says Gene. "When I got into cutting, I had a knack for it."
After graduating, Gene worked at different salons to hone his skills. It was during this time that he met his mentor, Jimmy Miller, who owned Princess Hair Salon in Milford.
"He polished every bit of you that wasn't," Gene says of Miller. "He taught me patience and speed and how to give back to the community. He gave me every tool I needed to do this business and do it right."
Gene then opened his own salon in Milford, Bayview Hair Company. He ran the salon for a few years before moving to Colorado. When Gene moved back to Connecticut, he settled in the northern part of the state.
It was there he got into a dirt bike accident and broke his neck and hip.
"I needed to be closer to my family, so I came back here to learn to walk again," Gene says.
At that point, Gene decided to try to get back in touch with someone else who was influential in his life, Johnna. They first met when Johnna was nine and Gene was 12 and lost track of each other after high school. Gene found her again on Facebook and their first date was Nov. 6, 2010.
"We've been together ever since," says Gene.
Gene says he and Johnna participated in the East Haven Fall Festival earlier this month, showcasing the hair studio.
"When we were on the Green, I said, 'Who would have thought that we would be walking through here [years later], holding hands and promoting a business?'" Gene recalls.
Owning a business together didn't happen right away for Gene and Johnna. Before they got married, Gene was teaching at Branford Academy and working at Hair Dynamics in East Haven and at Libby's Motorsports in New Haven as a motorcycle mechanic.
"One of my students asked when I would open a shop. I said, 'When I found a cool place,'" Gene says.
The student said his boss had just the location, and Gene and Johnna visited the building at 400 Coe Avenue. They loved it and starting getting things in place to open.
Superstorm Sandy and the October snowstorm delayed the opening of the salon until last November, when Gene and Johnna hosted their first cut-a-thon. It's been a good first year, and Gene is looking forward to having many successful years in the salon.
This year's cut-a-thon will benefit the Connecticut Hospice, which cared for Johnna's mother, Barbara Lucibello, before she died last year. She left Gene and Johnna an inheritance they used to open the salon.
"It's stressful and scary [to run a business], but if I lose this, I'd be losing what my mother-in-law gave us. I loved her very much," says Gene. "I consider this her salon. It says Gene Allen's, but it is Barbara Lucibello's."
Gene is pleased to be able to continue to honor Lucibello and help the Connecticut Hospice at the same time. His father-in-law and father also received care there.
"They're just phenomenal people" at the hospice, Gene says. "They care so much for you."
And because Gene cares so much for the community, he wants to continue to host the cut-a-thons.
"Giving back to the community is huge," he says. "I have to help people."
No appointments are required for the cut-a-thon. Haircuts that day will be $10 for men and children, and $15 for women.