July 25, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Life rolls For Lodi’s Diana West Wise

Diana West Wise’s clients knew the handwriting was on the wall when they saw “For Sale” signs go up at Wooster and Academy streets in Lodi.
“Diana’s Hair Fashions and Tanning Salon” will close July 1. With the sale of the building and her family’s Elyria Street property, she and her husband are moving to Florida, marking the end of nearly a half century of contributions to the Lodi community.
Diana West Wise was born in Lodi Community Hospital in 1944, the second child of Harry and Lucile West who, in 1940, had purchased a home on the corner of Wooster and Prospect Streets.
Diana has fond memories of her childhood in Lodi.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, we rode bikes all over town; we went up to the school playground; we went to the movies at the Idol Theater downtown; we visited one another, had birthday parties and since Grandpa March had built a play house for me, lots of kids came to play.”
She remembers walking to school. Downtown Lodi was ringed with a bank, several doctors’ offices, three grocery stores, a Ford dealership, the Fire Station, Post Office.
Businesses of every kind.
Diana can name them: the Park Restaurant, Western Auto store, Leatherman’s Hardware, Hower Bros. Department Store, Underwood’s IGA, Isaly’s for lunch and ice cream, and the Philips Drug Store soda fountain for cherry phosphates.
But a sign of changing times came in 1961, her junior year, when Lodi High School became history.
She says it was hard belonging to only the second class to graduate from the consolidated Cloverleaf High School.
But she had already found a way to distinguish herself.
At age 13, Diana won the junior pairs national roller skating championship, along with her 15-year-old partner, Jim Harmer of Mount Vernon. The couple bested 23 other teams from Canada and every part of the United States, including Hawaii. The Medina County Gazette’s Thursday, Aug. 5, 1958 edition reported the national championship along with a photo of the couple and their trophy.
Diana learned to skate on Lodi’s Wooster Street sidewalks.
“I started skating with clamp-ons. We would sweep the smooth slate side-walks from where my beauty shop is now located — it was a filling station then — all the way up the block. My parents began taking me to the rinks.
“When I was in third grade, my skating teacher, who also taught in Mount Vernon, brought a fifth-grade boy, Jim Harmer, up to Wooster to skate with me in couples lessons.”
Their skating partnership ended when Diana quit skating after graduating high school and going on to beauty school. Her partner turned professional, teaching skating in Cleveland and Elyria, and in Florida, California and Oregon. Remarkably, Jim Harmer teamed up again with Diana in 2002, when she was 58, and resumed competing as senior pair skaters.
Diana began her career as a hairdresser by working two years in a beauty shop in Wooster. She returned to Lodi as her own boss by entering into a two-year lease for a hairdressing shop at 414 Wooster St.
In 1964, she married Les Wise, a home-builder from Shreve. Their only child, Christy, was born in 1966.
With her parents and grandparents nearby, Diana had no problem finding babysitters.
“That baby buggy about wore the sidewalks out,” she said.
In 1969, Diana and her husband bought the building at Academy and Wooster, which had been a carpet store but originally was a filling station owned by “Lefty” Newell.
Diana remembers her Grandpa John March would send her as a child with a quarter, saying “tell Lefty I need five San Felice cigars” — a transaction that back in the day was not a problem for anyone.
Initially, the West, March and Wise families lived south of Lodi on Wooster Street. Diana’s husband built two homes, one at 315 Elyria St. where Diana’s mother moved after her husband’s death and the other on the same road just out of town for Diana, Christy and himself.
The rural setting of the new home came in handy when one of Diana’s clients gave her a pony. Christy, age 6 at the time, persuaded her mother to stop making her take tap dance lessons. Soon Christy moved up from ponies to quarter horses. At age 10, she showed her quarter horse at Youth World in Oklahoma City. In 1997, Christy, by then married, made the cover and lead story in the National Snaffle Bit Association’s “Way to Go” magazine, along with her national prize-winning horse, “Sweet Movin’ Artie,” nicknamed “Mikey.”
While Christy worked for years as a hairdresser in her mother’s shop, she remained a horse-woman. It wasn’t surprising that when she and her husband decided to move to Florida, they settled in Ocala, an area where many of the country’s largest, most successful horse ranches are located.
Christy still has horses, including her prize winner “Mikey” who at 19 years old shares retirement in a grassy yard along with a donkey friend.
Diana said she considered moving south to be with her daughter years ago, but felt a responsibility to her long-time clients — many in their 80s — as well as the other hairdressers in her shop.
With the death of her mother, Lucile West, Diana and her husband decided it was time to join her daughter in Florida.
They’ll be bringing something with them.
“We can’t separate the Village of Lodi from family memories,” she said. “We’ll just take them all with us.”