WAHOO – Before having a photograph taken to commemorate her 100th birthday, Bernice Wiese fussed with the curler she had wrapped in her hair.
The former beautician wanted to look her best, which is normal given that she made hundreds of women look their best during the five decades she operated a beauty shop in Wahoo.
Wiese turned 100 years old on July 7. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saunders House resident had a very quiet celebration with lunch and birthday cake with her daughter, Donna Johnson of Lincoln.
Wiese was born at her parents’ home in Wahoo on July 2, 1920. Her family lived there for the first few years of her life, surrounded on either side by both sets of grandparents.
She remembers the grandparents who lived to the west. They spoke only German.
“So I had to know German to understand them,” she said. Unfortunately, she no longer remembers how to speak the language.
She also remembers sitting on the porch swing with her grandpa, being carried around by the Otto brothers who were neighbors and going to weekly dinners at her aunt’s house.
“We always got together on Sunday afternoons,” she said.
Later Wiese’s family moved to a farm south of Ithaca near Zion Lutheran Church. She attended Ceresco High School through the 10th grade.
In her early 20s, Wiese married Martin Schwenck. The couple moved to a farm near Ashland. He died from a heart attack only five years after their wedding, and Wiese had to move off of the farm and back to Wahoo.
During her brief marriage, their daughter, Donna, was born. After learning that she could not have more children, Wiese and her husband adopted an infant son named Gayle from the Nebraska Children’s Home.
To support her family, Wiese went to beauty school in Lincoln to learn cosmetology. In 1950, she opened a beauty shop in her home at 12th and Broadway streets, which she called Bernice’s Beauty Shop.
Being a beautician and working in her home were the perfect way for the single mother to raise her children.
“They came to my house, that way I could take care of my kids,” she said.
For 52 years, Wiese worked five days a week. She closed the shop on Thursdays, when she bowled in a ladies league, and Sundays when she and her family went to church.
“I would work all day long cutting hair, doing permanents and setting hair,” she remembered.
Wiese’s talents with scissors, curlers and hairspray were widely known. She received a card on her 100th birthday from a former client who said she always liked the way Wiese cut her hair.
Wiese was a walking billboard for her talents, with platinum blonde hair that she had all of her life. It was only the last few years that her hair began to darken rather than turn gray, her daughter said.
Ten years after her first husband died, Wiese remarried. Her new husband, Raymond Wiese, moved into her home with her children. They were married for 50 years. Raymond Wiese passed away in 2007.
Wiese has fond memories of life as a young adult. She enjoyed weekly dances in Memphis that the whole family attended.
“Every Saturday night they had a dance above the pool hall,” she said.
Her daughter, Donna, remembers those dances as well.
“I learned to dance in Memphis standing on somebody’s feet while they danced,” she said.
Unfortunately, both of Wiese’s husbands were not dancers.
“I like to dance but I married a couple of men who didn’t dance,” she said with a laugh.
Another activity that was important to Wiese throughout her adult life was her membership in the VFW Auxiliary in Wahoo.
“The auxiliary and the beauty shop were her life,” her daughter said.
Wiese remained in her home until 2015, when she moved to Saunders House. The home she was born in and the home she lived in for over 50 years both remain standing in Wahoo.