Laura Hays

By Megan Willome

Director | Instructor | Homebody

Laura Hays straddles different worlds much like she straddles a horse. As the new director of McLennan Community College’s cosmetology department, she works in the world of beauty — skin care, hairstyling, waxing, microdermabrasion. In the evenings and on weekends her world is at the ranch where she lives with her husband, Edward, a cattle rancher and motocross enthusiast. Their daughter, Savannah, who recently graduated from Tarleton State University, also lives on the property. Edward takes care of the cattle; Savannah, a barrel racer, takes care of the horses; and Hays assists, whether that’s listening, cooking, feeding dogs and horses or what she calls “piddling.”

“I just like piddling. I like being home,” Hays said.

During the summer most classes at MCC meet Monday through Thursday. So for instructors, it’s a four-day work week with 10-hour days. But that schedule is a little different in the cosmetology department.

“In the hair world we work Friday and take off Monday. Everyone wants their hair done on Friday before they go out on the weekend,” Hays explained. So her summer workweek is Tuesday through Friday. Managing Editor Megan Willome visited with Hays by phone on a Friday morning as Hays looked forward to a weekend of work on the ranch.

WACOAN: Where are you from?

Hays: I’m originally from Waco. Graduated from Richfield [High School, which closed in 1985]. In between that time I’ve been to 17 schools in my first through 12th grade school career. I went to four schools in one year. It made me who I am today — I am very flexible.

WACOAN: What caused your family to move so much while you were growing up?

Hays: We called them roadside stops, but they were Stuckey’s convenience stores. That’s what my family did my whole life growing up. They’d just move us wherever they needed supervisors or to open new ones or manage ones that were having financial difficulties.

WACOAN: Were all the stores in Texas?

Hays: They were not all in Texas. One was in Iowa. We got back to Texas as quick as we could.

WACOAN: I know you got your education at MCC. When did you attend the cosmetology program?

Hays: I was hired to teach cosmetology in 1990. Let me back up.

I was a student in ‘86-‘87 in cosmetology. I knew the day I walked in here that I wanted to teach. I thought, ‘This is the perfect thing for me to teach,’ but I had to get that license first. I wanted to go immediately into the cosmetology instructor program, but my director said, ‘You need to go out in the field and work a little bit,’ which now I appreciate that very much. I worked for three years. Three years to the day I called and said, ‘I’m ready to go into the [cosmetology instructor] program.’ In 1989 I went through the instructor program.

WACOAN: Where did you work during those three years?

Hays: I started at JCPenney [Salon]. We discourage this to our students, but I did move [jobs] several times during those three years. But every move I made was because of a better opportunity. Or several places I went to, they closed, they sold their business. Some of it wasn’t in my control. For a couple of years I actually worked in a salon during the day and came to my instructor job in the evening. I didn’t give up [salon work] right away. You’ve got to ease your clients out. You grow to love them.

WACOAN: And they grow to love you. So what happened after you started the instructor program?

Hays: During my training my instructor passed away, so they put me in her position. They were very hesitant to do so. I was 26 years old, no [teaching] experience. Back then it was a night program. They asked, ‘Can you handle the program by yourself?’ I said, ‘Give me the opportunity. I can do it.’ I was hired in 1990, and I have been here 26 years.

WACOAN: When did you become the director of the cosmetology department?

Hays: On May 2. Our director just recently retired. I’ve been here my whole life, I feel like.

I love this department. I’m a teacher at heart, but I couldn’t see anybody from the outside taking the job, and nobody from the inside wanted this responsibility. I just had to take it. In the classroom is where I belong. I’m still teaching in the aesthetician program as well. I’m going to be wearing two major hats in the fall when the aestheticians students return.

WACOAN: What is your vision as the cosmetology program’s director?

Hays: I think my vision is going to be, which we’ve already started, to increase enrollment. That’s one thing I’m working on right now. It’s a team. My faculty is our team, and we work so good together. We’re getting out there and marketing.

It’s surprising to me that a lot of people know we have a cosmetology training department, but they don’t know we have a full-service salon. Hey, we’re here! We do skin care, we do facials, we do microdermabrasion, we do chemical peels. People say, ‘This is the best-kept secret in Waco!’ You can walk in, but we prefer working by appointment.

WACOAN: Describe a typical student. What attracts them to cosmetology?

Hays: There’s a lot of situations in students’ lives. They have families, they have small children. A lot of times it’s single moms. They can’t commit to a two-year program or a four-year degree. It takes 14 months to complete [the certification] — that’s very appealing. Financial aid is available, and it’s not an expensive program.

Our students, they’re creative. Our textbook is huge, and it’s all based on science. To cut hair, you have to understand angles. To mix colors, you have to understand math, fractions. What draws students in here is the creativity and the interaction with people because this is a service-oriented business. And just to obtain a career in a short amount of time that can make you a lot of money. You can take that license basically anywhere you want to go.

We also have students that this is appealing to [because] their goal is a four-year degree, but their short-term goal is to get a job to put them through a four-year degree. In this field you can work in a salon during the day and go to school at night or vice versa. It’s very flexible. You have options.

WACOAN: Your daughter recently graduated from college at Tarleton State University. Did she attend through MCC, or did she go to Stephenville?

Hays: She moved to Stephenville. MCC has the University Center, and they do partner with Tarleton, but her degree is in animal science, animal reproduction, and that’s something she had to live in Stephenville to accomplish.

Currently, she’s working on our ranch in the Marlin area. She has a lot of options. What she really wants to do is breed and train barrel racing horses because she’s a barrel racer and has been since she was 9 years old. Horses are her passion, her love. We have four horses that she’s currently working with, ages 1-4. We have 12 horses altogether that we care for and feed every afternoon.

WACOAN: Tell me about your ranch.

Hays: We have two ranches. We live on 350 acres right outside of Riesel, before you get into Marlin. It’s a cool setup because my husband’s parents, their homestead was there. We built on the back side of the acreage. Both of his parents have passed away, so within the last two years we remodeled their home place, and that’s Savannah’s home.

My husband is a cattle rancher. He leases about 8,000 acres in the Marlin-Reagan area and even in Kosse. Usually, at any given time there are about 3,000 head of cattle. They’re just stockyard cattle, not any particular breed. That’s a lot of land and a lot of work.

Right now is when they start plowing all this land, and you have to plow it, then plow all that land again to fertilize, then plow all that land again to plant and pray it grows. Pray that we have sufficient rain, not a drought, no army worms or grasshoppers. There’s been times you go to bed at night and wake up and, ‘Where did it go?’ There are lots of factors in the ranching business.

WACOAN: What are army worms?

Hays: They start out worms, and then they turn into a grayish-color moth. Ranchers call them army worms. You’ll see [ranchers] kneeling down, looking through all their grass. [Army worms] can destroy a crop very quickly. The only way to remedy that problem is hire a crop duster, unfortunately.

WACOAN: What are you growing? Is it for the cattle?

Hays: It’s oats. That’s the farming part of our ranch. [Edward] plants his own oats, and that’s what the cattle eat.

WACOAN: So given that your husband manages the cattle and your daughter trains horses, what is your role on the ranch?

Hays: I’m very involved with listening and living it, living on the ranch.

My involvement would be more in the horses. That’s my serene time. It’s work, but it’s how I recharge. I go straight home, change clothes and start in feeding, watering. I just love it. The horses are all standing there, looking at me. They start nickering, and I’m like, ‘Hold on, hold on!’ The dogs are greeting me, ‘The food’s here!’ (That’s me, I’m the food.)

WACOAN: Were you a horse girl growing up? It would’ve been hard with moving around so much.

Hays: No, I was not. I was more of a city girl. I’ve totally adapted to country life. I tell my husband, ‘You came to the city looking for a wife and brought her back to the country.’ He just laughs. I’ve done well.

Before [Savannah] was born, my husband had horses he would ride every day, checking his cattle. We did a lot of pasture riding, pleasure riding. I can’t go as fast as she does [barrel racing]. Just watching her makes me nervous. When you’re on a horse and feel all that power, you get an appreciation for those who ride horses with speed.

Being in my office, I’m inside all day long. There aren’t very many windows in my department. I’m busy enough that I don’t think about that, but the minute I’m outside, it’s a breath of fresh air. I’m going home to the country!

In the profession I’m in, I love people. I love socializing with people. But when you talk for a living, that’s one of the wonderful things that’s stress-free at home. Horses nicker at me, but they don’t talk to me. I look forward to my husband being there when I get home and now Savannah being home from Stephenville. We take care of things in the evening, which is great family time. It’s a plan now — you do this, I’ll do this, did you do that?

WACOAN: Do Savannah and Edward work well together?

Hays: My husband is a hands-on dad and always has been.

My daughter and my husband, not so much right now, but they traveled a lot together. Savannah was on the Tarleton rodeo team. [Editor’s note: The Tarleton Rodeo Association includes many teams that compete in a variety of events]. Sometimes they’d leave on a Wednesday so she could ride on a Thursday. I didn’t get to attend those events because someone has to stay behind and keep everything else going [on the ranch]. That’s really my job on the team. I’m a homebody. They’re the travelers, so it really works well. They tell each other all the time, ‘Partners forever.’

WACOAN: How did you meet Edward?

Hays: It was the day I graduated from cosmetology school in 1987. A lot of the girls, we were out celebrating our graduation, and I met him that night. We were engaged almost four years because somebody couldn’t commit. [Laughs.]

He played it safe. He had been the best man in seven of his best friends’ weddings, and he saw, unfortunately, that all of those weddings didn’t last very long. It scared him half to death. He said, ‘We have such a good thing going. I don’t want to ruin it.’ I finally had to say, ‘Here’s the date, here’s the time.’ I had to set the time an hour before the actual wedding. It was an 8 o’clock candlelight service, and I told him it started at 7 p.m. But he got there!

He’s always late. I’m going to be everywhere early. They say opposites attract, and we are opposites in some ways. We have so much fun together. He’s definitely my best friend.

WACOAN: How does mothering change when your child goes off to college and now, when she’s living close by but in her own separate space?

Hays: Your role changes, it really, really does. We always taught Savannah to do what’s right. We knew she knew right from wrong.

She went to a private school — she went to Parkview [Christian Academy] up to fourth grade — and then we transferred her to Texas Christian Academy, and she went there till 11th grade. Then a lot of her friends decided to go to public school, and she convinced us. We thought, ‘When she goes off to college, she won’t be in a private school setting. She won’t be protected anymore. If she wants to go this bad, then maybe it’s an OK thing to do because she’s still with me and I can help her transition from private to public before she does go to college.’ I’m not sure I would do that again, but I always look for the positive. She was exposed to things, and we helped her navigate through that, and that was part of her success, moving away from home, living in Stephenville for two years. She took care of all her college business on her own. She did well. She left one way and came back grown. Wow, so proud of her!

Transitioning to her being a college student, the hardest thing at first — it didn’t take me long because I saw how Savannah was capable — you’ve gotta let the control go. Sometimes that’s very difficult. Sometimes people just never do it. That’ll kill you. It was very liberating for me to release that control to the person I raised.

WACOAN: And now that she lives on the property?

Hays: We’re still mother-daughter. I love to have her close because I can send her home too. [Laughs.]

I see a lot of mothers that are their child’s friend, and that’s not good. You need to be their mom, be the disciplinarian, not be their hangout buddy. I am her mom, but we’ve become friends after all these years. They come back! For a while it was, ‘I love you, but I don’t really like you right now.’

In turn, Savannah was maturing. She’s like, ‘Mom, thanks for always being a phone call away, especially in college.’ She’d call frantic: ‘I didn’t do well on a test’ or ‘I didn’t know how to handle this.’ [Now she says,] ‘You were always just patient and calm and helped me calm down so I could make better decisions.’ She’s telling me all this now, so that’s really rewarding.

WACOAN: Riesel is, what, about half an hour out of town? How long is your commute?

Hays: It’s a good 30 minutes. In the mornings once I get in the car, I’m starting to think about the day. It’s a wonderful time for me to process my thoughts.

As part of my job it’s such a huge responsibility that you have a classroom of people waiting to see what you’re going to offer today. It’s not an office where it’s all my world.

These are students who sometimes they quit professions to change careers. They drive — oh, my gosh — I’ve had students drive from Corsicana, Mexia, Teague, Gatesville. You have to take that seriously that they’re going to drive that many miles to come to your class. I’m big on being prepared and delivering the message the best I can and giving them what they deserve.

For a student here it’s Monday through Friday, seven hours a day. That’s a hard schedule, a definite commitment with no paycheck at the end of the week. If you can fit in a part-time job in the evening — some can and some can’t. Those who come through this program have sacrificed a lot. That’s what makes it rewarding.

WACOAN: That’s more of a time commitment on a daily basis than at your average four-year program.

Hays: Yes, it is.

WACOAN: How do you use your drive home?

Hays: I try real hard to put my day here to an end before I leave because I want to switch gears. When you’re inexperienced, you have to take work home, but I try to utilize my time as best I can because that’s my time, that’s my family time.

I think about what I am going to make for dinner. I cook every single day. If I pick something up [from a restaurant], it means either I don’t feel well or have had the worst day. I cook every night, and usually we don’t eat till late because we have a couple hours of [ranch] work when we get home. Some people say it’s bad to eat late, but that’s just what we do.

WACOAN: Well, it’s not like you’re sitting around watching TV for those couple of hours.

Hays: I can’t stand TV. I hate it, even just the noise of the TV. My husband isn’t a TV watcher either. If it is on, it will be a motocross race — he is a motocross racer. That was his hobby growing up. We have thousands of trophies, motocross trophies. Some of them are beautiful pieces of furniture.

Motocross is his world. Barrel racing is Savannah’s world. What’s my world?

I’m so fortunate because, really, I don’t go to a job. I get up every day and do something I love doing. It’s a hobby and a job, but what do I enjoy doing? I won’t say cleaning my house because I don’t like that, but I just like piddling. I like being home.

WACOAN: Or cooking.

Hays: From 1991, when I got married, to 2002, we lived in a 900-square-foot farm house that was [Edward’s] aunt’s. When we built our house, the big joke was we can save a lot of money without a kitchen because I didn’t cook when we got married. I did know all the fast-food phone numbers.

Now the kitchen is my domain. To get in there and cut up fresh vegetables. Cooking just relaxes me. We eat very healthy. I cook very healthy. Even in the mornings my husband’s so spoiled. I make his breakfast sandwiches with eggs and organic cheese. I make those in advance on Sundays. They’re in the fridge, and he just grabs one.

Now that I’m off on Mondays [in the summer], Mondays are more of my prep day. In the fall I use Sunday afternoons to prepare for the week because that makes my week so much easier. That’s when I go to the grocery store. There’s times when I do have to go to the store every other day or every third day because healthy food doesn’t last long. Veggies go bad, fruit goes bad.

WACOAN: So you plan meals a week in advance?

Hays: Yes.

I think about what my lunches [at work] are going to be so I don’t have to look for the healthiest lunch I can find at a restaurant. I’m a big salad eater. People say, ‘Are you having lettuce for lunch again today? How do you do that?’ I just love salads. It doesn’t bother me.

WACOAN: In terms of family meals, do you three have similar tastes?

Hays: We do for the most part. My daughter, as she’s maturing, her tastes are changing. That was always difficult because for a while it’s gotta be a meat and a potato or a hamburger or chicken nuggets.

But I’ve tried hard to set an example for her, as far as a healthy diet. I made certain it never was about being thin or being this or being that. It’s about you’re going to feel better, you’re going to live longer. As a teenager, college student, you do the best you can.

She just lives on the other side of the pasture, and I’ll call and tell her what we’re having for dinner, and she may say she’s eaten or she may say, ‘That sounds wonderful. I’ll be right over.’

WACOAN: Since eating out isn’t part of your family’s routine, are there places you do like to go on special occasions?

Hays: Somewhere like Ninfa’s. We all like Ninfa’s. But even on our anniversaries or birthdays I’ll say [to Edward], ‘Do you want to go out to eat?’ And he says, ‘I just like your food.’ Which is a big compliment.

WACOAN: It sounds like once you get to the ranch at the end of the workday, you’re a homebody. Do you have places you like to go in town?

Hays: Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon, if I have a little bit of time, sometimes, because I’m around people all week long, I’ll seek out places in Waco that I haven’t been before. That’s my regrouping time. I’m not a loner, but I do enjoy alone time. I’m not a big shopper. I like to browse, I like to look.

WACOAN: Over the course of your career and as a mother, how have you changed?

Hays: I’m not high maintenance. You think cosmetologist — hair extensions, artificial nails, lots of makeup — I’m more natural. I do think I’ve just simplified. I’ve figured out what’s important and what you need to let go of in the worlds, personal and at work.

What I used to think was a terrible situation, it’s not important. I don’t do drama. I don’t do drama. I deal with drama. You have a building full of primarily girls, anywhere from 18 to late 50s. Does that necessarily mean they know how to act? No.

What attracts me to my home — that pasture full of horses has drama, but it’s not mine. I’m around 12 horses every day. I know which ones are the bullies. I know which ones need to be fed first. I know which ones you can’t put together.

I’m a simple person — and I haven’t always been that way — in my personal life and career. I also think very logically. So to me, life’s not hard. We make it hard. We try to do too much. I try to keep things simple.