“Life is a series of happy accidents,” says local esthetician Jennie Washburn, who drifted down several paths before changing course in her 50s to embark on something new.
Born in Lawrence in 1952, Washburn grew up on a fourth-generation Jefferson County farm. Farm life didn’t interest her; she wanted to be a nurse. Her mother’s employer Dr. Issacs gave her a real nurse uniform with stiff polyester dress and cap to go with her plastic doctor’s kit.
“I had one of the first Barbie dolls with a nurse’s uniform,” she recalls. “Every Christmas I’d decorate a white tree with Barbie ornaments and host a Barbie Tree party. Barbie taught me you could be anything you wanted to be no matter what you looked like.”
That lesson bit the dust when she changed her mind and her parents insisted she get a college education instead of becoming a hairdresser. She graduated from Lawrence High School in 1970, attended Washburn University, married her high school sweetheart and transferred to Emporia University. After trying art, education and anthropology, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“It took me eight years and a divorce to finally get through college,” she says.
Washburn floated through many jobs, mostly in sales and the hotel industry, before someone suggested she try insurance.
“For a woman at that time it was a bit cutting edge but supposedly a good money-making career,” she says.
She joined American Family Insurance in Lawrence, married Daniel Washburn, her husband of 25 years, moved to a 20-acre property near Baldwin, opened an insurance agency in Baldwin City and served two terms on Baldwin City Council.
She moved to Hedges Insurance in 1996.
“It was the best working environment I’d ever experienced, but when I reached my 50s I decided I didn’t want to listen to people complaining about their lives, claims and insurance premiums,” she says.
“I wanted to do something that would help me and others feel happier.”
She considered training as a cosmetologist, nail technician or massage therapist.
“I didn’t want to work with chemicals and knew my body wouldn’t handle years of massage practice,” she says. “Despite loving Barbie, I was never a real lotions and potions kind of gal, but I was fascinated by the relaxation and results of esthetics.” Encouraged and supported by her husband she enrolled at Johnson County Community College to study esthetics.
“The most interesting thing about returning to school at 54 was being the oldest by far in the class,” she says.
“I wouldn’t say it was an obstacle; the biggest obstacle was getting those brain cells firing again after a long respite.”
Fire they did. She’s now a licensed esthetician with her own salon, Skincare by Jennie, at 2311 Wakarusa Drive that she shares with several massage therapists.
“I enjoy every aspect of my business and practice,” she says.
“This is what I was meant to do. It’s not just about making someone look better; it’s about creating a relaxing environment and educating people to feel better about their inner and outer self.”