Shielded from the hot sun under a small tarp Friday afternoon, Gloria Pederson, 46, gives haircut after haircut, pausing only to clean off her clippers between customers.
For Pederson, a full-time barber, cutting hair at Minnesota StandDown — an annual event that provides relief for struggling veterans — is the hardest, most rewarding work she does all year.
“I work harder here than I do at my job,” said Pederson, who works at a Great Clips in Cottage Grove and who served in the National Guard from 1976 to 1979. She has been the barber at StandDown since its inception in Minnesota eight years ago.
Pederson is among the 500 volunteers at Minnesota StandDown 2000, an event located on the University’s West bank that provides veterans with free medical, housing, financial and legal services.
Starting her job at the break of dawn, Pederson doesn’t quit until the sun begins to set. She gave more than 200 haircuts last year and expects to cut at least 150 this year.
Laughing and joking with her loyal customers, many of whom only get their hair cut once a year by her, Pederson listens to their heartfelt stories of sorrow and joy.
Pederson recalls a time when she heard a veteran begin to cry as he told his tragic story about seeing his friend get killed in Vietnam.
“I don’t like to hear about anyone getting hurt or killed,” Pederson said, with a glimpse of a tear in her eye.
Other veterans tell Pederson why they started using drugs or how they became alcoholics.
“Some of them are just lost souls that haven’t found their way back,” Pederson said. “Their bodies are back here, but they’re still someplace else.”
Pederson returns to StandDown each year because it gives her a moral uplift and leaves her feeling content.
However, when Pederson first started cutting hair at StandDown eight years ago, she didn’t think she could make it through the day.
“I felt scared, nervous, but by the end of the day, a team of wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” Pederson recalls, while buzzing away on a head of hair.
“I found the (veterans) to be very caring, very understanding, wanting to help,” Pederson continues. “They wanted to be accepted.”
Despite her enthusiasm, there are times when Pederson thinks about quitting. However, she always reconsiders.
“I can’t let the guys down,” Pederson said. “Who’s going to be out here to cut their hair?”
But Pederson returns to StandDown every year, mainly because she feels at home.
“They’re almost like a family to me,” she said. “It’s like having a family reunion once a year,” she adds, with customers nodding in agreement.
“I love it,” said Mark Davis, a veteran from the Vietnam War.
Patrick Hayes welcomes comments at [email protected]