12 | TUESDAY, APRIL 13, 2010                                                                                                                                         THE DAILY COLLEGIAN

                                                                                                                                                                                    Ryan Ulsh/Collegian
Russell Gutch poses at his salon Changing Times Hair Design at 333 S. Allen St. on Thursday. Gutch is the only stylist in Pennsylvania certified to make prosthetic wigs. While the wigs
usually sell for $3,000 to $6,000, Gutch makes them free for children who have cancer. The wigs each take 80 hours to hand craft.

Stylist works to change
lives one wig at a time
             By Brendan McNally                               To see a video of Russell Gutch
                                                              explaining what he does for

       ake one look at Russell Gutch, and                     Wigs for Kids go to:
       you’ll know he’s a New Yorker. He’s          ONLINE
       a charismatic, smooth-talking
Italian — collar popped, hair combed back         was just a great gift, not to have to worry
— with a slight accent that has The Bronx         about appearance.”
written all over it.                                 Today, Gutch only owns one salon, which
   But if you ask him about the work he does      he runs with the help of assistant Susie
for Wigs for Kids, an organization that pro-      Battles. But he used to be a big-time New
vides free wigs to children with cancer, the      York stylist who studied and trained for
69-year-old’s toughness melts away.               nearly a decade to rack up certifications in
   “I get pretty emotional,” he said after a      cosmetology, barbering and hair replace-
pause. “When you see the kids when they           ment.
are being treated — the condition they are           He moved to State College from New
in — it makes me emotional.”                      York in his early thirties to raise his family,
   Gutch, who owns Changing Times Hair            and friends say he’s fit in pretty well ever
Designs, 333 S. Allen St., is the only stylist in since.
Pennsylvania certified to make prosthetic            After moving to State College, his wife, a
wigs for children. Most of his wigs go to chil-   cancer nurse, sparked his interest in volun-
dren suffering from cancer.                       teering for Wigs for Kids. It didn’t take long
   More than 150,000 strands of individually      before he was sold.
hand-knotted human hair and 80 hours of              “I took one look at the equation and said,
work go into each custom-made wig.                ‘Wow, it would be neat if I could get [Wigs
Children can “sleep, shower and swim”             for Kids] into THON,’ ” Gutch said. “ ‘If we
with Gutch’s wigs on, he said.                    could pull that off, it would be fantastic.’ ”
   Wigs for Kids Executive Director Mark             He did pull it off, but it took 12 years and
Campo said the wigs would usually sell for        a lot of luck.
$3,000 to $6,000. But thanks to Gutch, chil-         After more than a decade, Wigs for Kids’
dren can be children again at no cost. Gutch      big break literally walked into Gutch’s salon
makes the wigs for kids with cancer free of       one afternoon, when a student involved
charge.                                           with            the             Interfraternity
   “I am there to make them feel like a kid,”     Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon
Gutch said. “I look at their face, and I know:    came by selling ads for a directory. The two
They’re back.”                                    got to talking, and Gutch’s charm did the
                                                  rest.                                                                                                                             Ryan Ulsh/Collegian
   In 2004, Marie Koudela, the first child to
receive a wig from Gutch, was diagnosed              Just like that, Gutch landed a speaking        Russell Gutch talks about hair follicles at Changing Times Hair Design on Thursday.
with osteosarcoma at the age of 15. She           spot for Wigs for Kids’ founder and interna-
went through 16 chemotherapy treatments           tionally renowned hair stylist Jeffrey Paul       was a child. In the summer, she would walk       a rush, though. We were jamming. We were
and surgery to replace cancerous bone in          at THON.                                          by the salon every day on her way to the         having some fun.”
her leg.                                             The partnership has lasted, and this year      Schlow Centre Region Library, but she               Gutch will tell you that “if you look good,
   During treatment, she couldn’t walk. Still,    alone, Wigs for Kids collected 45 ponytails       never imagined she would work there              you feel good.” But when he makes you look
she said losing her hair was one of the hard-     at the dance marathon.                            someday.                                         good, it’s obvious he feels even better.
est parts.                                           THON raised $7,838,054 this year, but             “He used to have all these different col-        Hanging on the wall of his salon, he still
   When she was going through the hardest
trial of her life, Gutch made things just a lit-
                                                  those 45 ponytails might make just as big an
                                                  impact as all those millions of dollars.
                                                                                                    ored wigs for the holidays,” Battles said.
                                                                                                    “So as a kid, I kind of thought he was crazy.”
                                                                                                                                                     has a picture of him and Paul from that
                                                                                                                                                     night. Their faces were beaming.
tle more normal, she said.                           “There is a strong link between self-             But after working for him, Battles’              “Russell is a guy who has a heart as big
   “He made things easier,” she said. “That       image and self-esteem and the ability to          impression of Gutch completely changed.          as the great outdoors,” Campo said. “He
                                                  heal,” Campo said. “Restoring that self-             Now, she is learning the trade firsthand      goes out of his way to help people.”
                                                  image can have a huge impact on a child.”         from Gutch and will be traveling to Florida         As much as Gutch has been given, he’s
                                                     He said Wigs for Kids receives 10 to 12        in September to get certification for hair       given back a lot more. He makes people feel
                                                  thousand ponytails a year from around the         replacement and hair extensions. With that       good about themselves every day, and he’s
                                                  world, but the sad reality is the wigs Gutch      certification, she could work more closely       made kids feel more like kids during the
                                                  designs cost a lot of money to make. Wigs         with Gutch and maybe take his place as the       hardest time of their lives.
                                                  for Kids has yet to receive a cent from           next person in Pennsylvania certified to            And those children will never forget it.
                                                  THON, he said.                                    make children’s prosthetic wigs.                    Six years later, Koudela is a junior at
                                                     “We’re not done,” Gutch said. “We need            But until then, Gutch plans to continue       Penn State majoring in nutritional sci-
                                                  funds. We got hair, but we need to find a         the work he loves doing.                         ences, but she still calls Gutch a “great
                                                  way to get into the [Hershey Four                    “My children say to me, ‘Dad, why don’t       friend.”
                                                  Diamonds Fund].”                                  you retire?’ I am retired,” he said. “I’m           “He’s just a great person and compas-
                                                     Finding a spot for Wigs for Kids in the        doing my job. The satisfaction is taking your    sionate about what he does,” she said. “He
                                                  Four Diamonds Fund, Gutch said, would be          God-given talent and giving it back.”            really wanted to help in any way he could.”
                                                  icing on the cake for his “marvelous                 Gutch said as he has gotten older, the           But for Gutch, he was just doing his job.
                                                  career.”                                          young students at Penn State have been              “That’s the game,” he said. “I’m a hair
                                                     But no matter what, the charity has a          coming into his salon less and less. He said     stylist.”
                                                  bright future in State College.                   that’s OK, but he wants students to know:
                                                     “You know, I’m not going to be around          He’s still “hot” when it comes to cutting                   To e-mail reporter:
                                                  forever,” Gutch said. “And the torch some-        hair.
                                                  day is going to have to be passed.”                  He likes to tell the story of how he and
                                                     Battles could be the new torchbearer for       Paul came into the salon one night to cut         If you know
                                                  years to come. Gutch said he couldn’t run         the hair of four students for THON.
                              Ryan Ulsh/Collegian the salon without her: After coming on               “The funny part is, we walk in the door,       Do you know someone you think should
Russell Gutch poses with one of his shops board three and a half years ago, Battles is              and they took one look at Jeff and I and say,     be on the We Are page? Call us at (814)
wigs. More than 150,000 strands of individ- already managing the salon like a veteran.              ‘These guys know how to cut hair? A couple        865-1828 or e-mail
ually hand-knotted human hair go into them.          Battles said she knew Gutch since she          of old geezers?’ ” he said, laughing. “It was

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