When Lydia Rubenzer was 11, she begged her friend to attend a two-day cosmetology camp at Chippewa Valley Technical College.
“I was too scared to go alone,” Rubenzer, now 18, said. “One of my best friends said she would do it with me. She hated doing hair — can’t braid or anything. I thought it was really fun. She just took it in.”
Now, seven years later, Rubenzer is halfway through her technical diploma in the cosmetology program at CVTC. This is where it all began, she said.
Rubenzer, of Elk Mound, had only fleeting ideas of what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I always braided hair and painted nails, but I never thought I would do something like this for my (career),” she said.
During her freshman and sophomore years of high school, after the camp, Rubenzer had her sights on becoming a pilot, flying the friendly skies. But then COVID-19 hit, and the world changed. She didn’t feel like being a pilot was realistic for her anymore.
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But she knew she liked doing hair.
As the only daughter and granddaughter in her family, she was enamored with bows, barrettes and clips. She did wedding hair for a bride and eight bridesmaids when she was in her second year of high school.
“I remember thinking that was kind of fun,” she said. “I made really good money, and I thought maybe I should lean toward this.”
She thought back to cosmetology camp at CVTC. It felt familiar to her, she heard it was a good school, and she could start while still in high school and spend one year honing her craft to get her diploma.
“I’m so glad I chose this place,” Rubenzer said.
So is Emily Dittner, one of Rubenzer’s cosmetology instructors.
Dittner didn’t know it, but about halfway through Rubenzer’s first semester, Rubenzer showed Dittner a photo of them together at camp seven years ago.
“(Rubenzer) and I laughed and talked about how adorable and little she was doing hair,” Dittner said. “I told her it was so cool that she started that young and kept with the same career goal.”
Rubenzer is set to graduate in December — just six months after graduating from high school. Then she plans to rent a chair at a local salon. She won’t soon forget her time at CVTC.
“I don’t even know what to say — it’s the best!” she said. “I was super nervous to walk in here at first, but everyone was super welcoming and willing to help.
“I love that the instructors are not just here to teach you. They care about you. They want to get to know you and help you through.”