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Local Editorials

From beauty school to business owner

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln

Rhonda Pieper (pictured at right) of Donnellson gets her business management skills from her father, her adopted father. Bob Bixenman owned Bix Basement Systems in Ft. Madison, and Rhonda observed and listened to him while she was growing up. She remembers him saying, “It takes money to make money.”

Upon graduation from Aquinas High School in Ft. Madison, she spent a year at the University of Iowa. She returned to Ft. Madison to attend Bill Hill’s College of Cosmetology, and to be closer to her soon-to-be husband, Frank, who worked for her father.

After graduation, Rhonda worked at a beauty salon in Ft. Madison for a year, then, at the tender age of 21, bought her own salon. She’s never looked back. Oh, there are bad days, but they are outweighed by the good. Her husband quips, “Some days she wants to sell, the next day it’s great!”  

In her salon, Midtown Hairstyling, in Ft. Madison, she has four stylists, including herself. Unusual for a small business, especially a beauty salon, she provides health insurance for her employees. An obvious sign of a good work environment, one of her stylists has been with her 11 years, because Rhonda is, “Fair and thoughtful.”

Over the 34 years that Rhonda has been in business, 25 or so stylists have worked for her. One of Rhonda’s most stressful times was when three stylists left her over a period of two months to open their own salons. But that was the way she got started, so she couldn’t complain. The training of new stylists was hard work, but she always learned something new.

In addition to hair styling, Midtown also offers tanning, manicures and pedicures.  Rhonda finds the pedicures to be the most relaxing. The pedicures are done in a quiet room by itself, and she has time to spend with the customer, some of them she has known for years.  She sees customers in their good times and bad. They come in to have their hair and nails done for funerals, proms, graduations, weddings, you name it. Some of her long-time customers bring her little gifts which she really appreciates.

Rhonda’s is a master with color — she can change someone’s appearance. A makeover! The color change takes time, and there are transition shades, which can be scary, like orange, when changing someone from brunette to blonde. But the end product is something to behold.

Of course, there are stories, and funny things can happen. They have taken to keeping a notebook of the interesting incidents and what people say: “Can you do my hair right now? OK, I’ll be right back, I have to run an errand.” Or, “I need a hairdo to fit around these head phones.”

The business is a joint effort by she and her husband, Frank, who works at Climax Molybdenum in Ft. Madison. He’s the “Mr. Fix-it” around the shop, which is invaluable. He also farms.

How to run a business was not taught by the college of cosmetology. Rhonda learned that from her dad, and the school of hard knocks. One time there was a salesperson offering advertising on phone-book covers. She wrote a check for $300, and called her father to let him know that he might want to invest, too. Her father told her it was a scam, and to stop payment on the check. Too late, the check had already been cashed. She has since learned that her money is much better spent on community and school activities.

Rhonda is occasionally called into funeral homes to do the hair of a deceased person. She was prepared when her mother passed away. She and her sister, who is also a beautician, did her mother’s hair and nails, and dressed her. After all, they had been doing their mother’s hair all along, and they wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do it.  

It was their last gift to their mother.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at, or visit his website at Also, Curt records his columns on

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