By Ray Knapp

I was raised in Grandin, Missouri – a little town in the Ozark Mountains. It could be compared to Flag Pond except the mountains are a little higher around Flag Pond. It’s only claim to fame was due to its namesake who established the largest sawmill in the world there in 1900.

Through Facebook, I recently got in contact with one of my friends from there. It had been about a half century since we had been in touch; by using the internet’s messenger service, we caught up on things that had taken place in our life since leaving Grandin.

We came from good, but dirt-poor families; with no trees of any size left to cut, there just wasn’t much work around there, so both of us left Grandin in order to make a living. I went into the Navy and she went to Peoria. Yvonne is the woman I’m talking about. As a high school girl she had this knack for cutting hair. A couple of grades behind me, I recall her cutting my hair with just scissors and a comb when we were in high school.

She got a cosmetology license after I left for the Navy, opening a shop in Grandin. After saving enough money she moved to Peoria and lucked out on opening a shop in a prime location which soon became a very successful business. My brother, Wally, worked for Caterpillar in Peoria. During his working days he would go to Yvonne’s shop and get his haircut – so he kept me a little informed about her during my 20 years in the Navy.

I think the Good Lord rewards people with a big heart. She and her husband, Vance, adopted a baby who only had six inches of intestines and had three surgeries before he was a month old. As Yvonne put it, “When I got him the doctors said don’t get too attached; he can’t live to be 3. But in my heart, I knew better. I blocked the tube (feeding tube that went directly to his stomach) and fed him every two hours and had my nanny do the same. He turned 37 in November and is my handsome sweet man. The doctors said that he has over 15 inches of intestines now. His medical records made history.”

One of her own daughters had severe medical issues as well, weighing only two pounds at birth, 93 percent deaf, and having celiac, and Type 1 diabetes. She wound up being a real challenge to care for. With a lot of care, not only did the baby fight through these issues, she has lived to graduate with straight A’s from President Reagan’s alma mater. That daughter, Savannah, did an internship for four months in D.C.; set before Senatorial panels in Washington, and Congressional leaders in Illinois to give her views about our health care system. She is now in the process of getting her master’s degree.

I was counting the children Yvonne and her husband have adopted or in some cases been a foster parent for, I’ve lost count, but it’s around 10. The youngest, Brittany, is in the process of completing cosmetology school. All of the children have been those with disabilities or other issues that kept other people from adopting them. Yvonne took them in because of that; loved and cared for them all. It seems none are aware of their difficult start, and have excelled in life. Yvonne is not just their Mom; she’s my hero as well.

The person I’m telling you about is not your typical hair-dresser, or gray-haired, babysitting granny. She had a Gold Wing motorcycle she occasionally rode to work and made round trips from Peoria to Grandin. 

Her brother from Poplar Bluff passed away in 2009, so she turned the hair salon over to her oldest daughter; moved back to Grandin, and took over his business of selling vaults to funeral homes.

She still has a home in Peoria and makes frequent visits there to see the kids. I don’t know if it’s on that Gold Wing Honda, or not.