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Jennifer Kennedy
Marketing/Public Relations

Canton woman donates mother’s hair cut 74 years ago
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Contribution to help children with medical hair loss and honors legacy to help others

A family treasure sat on Caroline Van Gorder’s dresser most of her life: an 18-inch lock of her mother’s hair that was cut about 74 years ago. Her mother, Francis Tench, cut the brown and auburn strands around 1939 when Van Gorder was about 10-years-old.

“She saved it for me because I am the only daughter; she thought I may want to have it,” said Van Gorder, 83, of Canton, adding that she still remembers the moment when her mother cut the hair and gave it to her. Her mother was born in 1898. “I’ve had it all these years, always wrapped it in tissue on my dresser.”

Van Gorder was married for 50 years before her husband John Donald passed away in 2002 at age 72. With no children of her own to pass it on to, Van Gorder decided to donate the family heirloom to a cause that would honor her mother’s gift. Her mother survived breast cancer at age 65, but passed away at age 79 due to throat cancer. Van Gorder survived a bout of uterus cancer at age 64.

“I wanted to do something for children or adults who could use it,” she said. “That was the type of person my mother was; if someone could use something, she would help them.”

Her St. Mary Mercy Hospital physician recommended to approach the Helen Palmer Image Recovery Center®, a St. Mary Mercy service that specializes in image rehabilitation for cancer patients. The Image Recovery Center services include skin care analysis, hand and nail care, massage therapy, hair replacement and headwear, and more, for those coping with cancer.

“My immediate thought was what a special gift to give to us,” said Trish Tyl, licensed clinical cosmetologist, Helen Palmer Image Recovery Center, St. Mary Mercy Hospital. “It’s more than just hair; it’s hair with history.”

Tyl was also surprised with the hair’s excellent condition: the strands still had shine without knots or snarls. One end was tied with a band while the other end still bounced with natural curl. “It looked like it was freshly cut,” Tyl said.

The Image Recovery Center sends all hair donations to Children with Hairloss, a non-profit organization based in Rockwood, Mich. that makes wigs out of human hair for children suffering from medically-related hair loss, such as cancer.

Tyl said specialists at the hospital’s Image Recovery Center routinely helps chemotherapy patients with hair loss, and that’s why “when we look at hair, we look at it as part of a person,” she said. “I felt Caroline was passing on her life and legacy.”

That’s how Van Gorder feels. “My mother raised me to help others and be kind to others,” she said. “It makes me feel good inside that I’m able to donate it someone who can use it.”
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