Photos by L.G. Patterson
Judith Lee and Nancy Wilson have discovered the essential ingredients that make for a long-lasting friendship — a load of fun, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude and just a pinch of the serious stuff. Their recipe for friendship keeps them laughing and having a good time as they work or travel together. Their lighthearted approach to life flavors their personalities, their cheerful voices and the sweets they bake together.
Baking for them is a treat, as much for them as for their customers. Sometimes they bake together; other times they split the process up and each bakes in her own kitchen. It helps that they live only a block from each other. Friends for more than 40 years, they’ve learned how to work together, if not in harmony, at least in concert with each other. “We both know what pushes the other one’s buttons,” Lee says. “Sometimes, she’ll tell me when I’m icing a cake what I should be doing, and I just take a deep breath and know she’s going to be the cake boss that day,” she says laughing, not complaining.
Their baking isn’t a get-rich- quick scheme. It’s a pastime they’d be doing anyway, one that pays for itself and generates some profits. “We’ve never baked something and had to throw it away because no one wanted it,” Wilson says. Their baked goods find their way onto the dessert tables of fundraisers or special events throughout Columbia. They are usually busiest just before a holiday, such as Easter or St.
The reason their “bakery” has no name or a business plan is because it isn’t really a business — it’s just something Lee and Wilson do in the evenings or weekends that they enjoy and that helps them save extra money to spend on trips they take together. Both have had long and successful careers in the hairdressing industry. Starting in the ‘70s they worked for the Regis Corporation, where Wilson managed the Columbia Mall store and was responsible for several other Regis salons in the state. Lee managed the Springfield Regis salon, then went on the road for the company to become an educator, teaching Regis hairdressers throughout the nation the fine points of their craft. Now, they work at the Green Meadows Hair Co., where they cut, clip, dye, wash and style hair. “I only work four days a week now,” Wilson says. “We’re old,” she adds with a laugh. As for Lee’s hours? “Monkey see, monkey do,” she quips.
Although they could both retire, they enjoy their work at the salon too much to consider leaving. “I’ll work as long as I can,” Wilson says. “It’s my social life. I’m so used to being with people that if you took that away from me, I’d be a mess. And my poor son would probably run away if I quit working — it’d drive him crazy.”
Lee also enjoys getting to know the people who sit in her chair, but she especially enjoys the challenges and pleasures of styling hair. “I like advising people what they can do,” Lee says. “I like transforming their hair.”
While talking about their baked goods, Lee scrolls through her phone and shows some pictures of their creations — a million dollar chocolate cake so big and chocolaty that just looking at could cause a person to gain a pound or two, and a pan full of cinnamon rolls. They can bake just about anything, “Pies, cakes, cookies, whatever anyone can think of,” Wilson says. Lee remembers that they have a spare cake pop and hurries into the kitchen to bring it out as a sample of their work.
While their sweets may not help reduce calories, the calories they carry are tasty and made with quality ingredients. “We make our own vanilla,” Lee says. “When Bruce, Wilson’s husband, passed away, all the alcohol that was in his closet eventually went to make vanilla.” Wilson chortles, “If Bruce were alive, he’d croak, or at least he’d roll over if he knew.”
Bruce would sometimes travel with the two friends on trips that took them throughout the world. Regis awarded trips to managers who met production goals, and most years Lee and Wilson were among the top performers for the corporation. A few years ago, Lee and Wilson wanted to go back to London and tour the city in style, not sparing any expense. The only problem was that going first class would cost more than they wanted to pay. How to take the trip and not feel that it was too extravagant? That’s when they got serious with their baking and decided money from their sales would go toward luxury travel.
They bought their tickets to London, made their reservations and had high hopes of going — just before the pandemic shut the city down. Two years later, they can talk about the ruined plans and laugh about it. Some people might mope or turn bitter when life hits them with a curve ball. Lee and Wilson don’t have a self-pitying bone in either of their bodies. They held onto their unused plane tickets and decided that this past February, they’d use the baking money to take a deluxe small ship cruise in the Caribbean. This time, life hit them with a snowball. They woke up the morning of their trip and were snowed in, unable to back out of the driveway. Taking their bad luck in stride, they put their sun lotion away and tried to enjoy the snowy mid- Missouri weather. “Now, we have more trips planned in the U.S.,” Lee says, “and we have to use the tickets in the next few months.”
Resilient? Flexible? Or just determined to have a good time regardless of what life throws at them? The friends have both had their share of sad times but have gotten past them. Wilson lost her husband about six years ago. Lee’s energy, enthusiasm and creativity helped her get past the grief of losing her father about 15 years ago. “After the funeral, friends and family were gathered to eat together. We were all sitting there and I got up and said, ‘OK, this is the announcement: We are going to New York City and the trip is open to anyone who wants to go. So, let me know.’ And a few months later we took off. I just couldn’t stand the thought of being in the house without my dad during the holidays,” Lee says.
If it’s Christmas, Lee and Wilson are in New York City. They love going there to see plays, people watch, go to museums and do all the things Midwest tourists do in the Big City. “We fly on Christmas day and come back four days later, in time to make everyone pretty for New Year’s
Eve,” Wilson says.
As avid football fans, they can be found at home games of the MU Tigers and at Arrowhead Stadium for Kansas City Chiefs games. Two years ago, they bought their first season tickets for the Chiefs. Again, the pandemic sidelined them, but it was a temporary setback. As the pandemic receded, they got back in the game — or at least in their seats.
Part of what make the women so compatible is that they share a similar approach to life. It’s a goodhearted way of relating to others that comes naturally and probably accounts for their success as bakers and hairdressers. Wilson explains: “I’ve seen people who come in (to Green Meadows Hair Co.) and maybe something terrible has happened to them — they’ve been ill or lost a family member. First of all, you massage their head, and they’re pretty happy. And when they get out of there after you’ve been kind with them and help them look so much better, they leave with a wonderful attitude.”