Local woman marks changes in area

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bonnie Mills, who several generations of Selma women know simply as “Bonnie,” has seen great changes in Selma during the 71 years she was in what she calls, smiling, “the beauty business.” Born in Monroe County, she graduated from high school in Frisco City in 1933, and in that Great Depression Era found few choices for women in any career field.

“There was teaching but at that time teachers were receiving State Script instead of getting paid. There was nursing, but I said NO to being a nurse, so that left business school. After a few weeks hitting those typewriter keys I apprenticed as a hair dresser with Mrs. R.C. Snowden in Monroeville and stayed with her for nine years,” she says.

Snowden also owned shops in Brewton, Greenville and Demopolis and Bonnie, who started learning the beauty business at 17, worked in most of them because “it was good experience.”

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During her six months in Demopolis she shared a room with another 18-year-old, who was working at a local restaurant so meals were no problem. Her family also sent the two a box of snacks every week, “a real joy in those days when no one had any money,” she recalls.

In 1942 she married Henry Seale, who joined the Air Corps, and the couple lived in Florida, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas, with Bonnie working in every place he was stationed. After World War II ended they came to Selma, where he entered business with his brother Herman, managing the meat market at Bates Grocery until they built their own store, Seale Brothers Grocery. Bonnie and her then sister-in-law Sue Seale were in the beauty business in a shop at the Hotel Albert. And in 1947 Mills opened Bonnie’s Beauty Shop, located at one time on Water Avenue near The Selma Times Journal. “I had lots of business back in those Craig Field days,” she says, “needed seven to nine operators at the shop.” Until 1976 Bonnie’s remained on Water Avenue. Then, in 1976 she bought Erin Vaughan’s house at 512 Church Street, converting it into a spacious shop named Bonnie’s, and remained there until Dec. 31, 2004 when she retired. By prior agreement, she says, the house will revert to a business office.

During all her years in the business world, she found time for a personal life, marrying Sam Mills in 1970.

Mills had transferred to Alabama Power Company in Selma, and, Bonnie Mills says, “I got a husband and two children: Sammy, who lives in Florida and is in the wholesale orchid business with 50 greenhouses, and Judi, who lives in Gainesville, Ga. and is vice president of Wachovia Bank.”

Sam Mills died in 1999 but the children, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild come often to see Bonnie Mills, who enjoys entertaining them and feeding them with the help of Daisy Johnson, “who has grown old along with me,” she says.

Through her business years Bonnie Mills has taken an active role in professional organizations as a member of the National Hairdressers Association, the Cosmetologist Association School, which she helped to open in Montgomery, and as a 40-year member of the Hair Fashions Committee. However, she says, in retirement she plans “to be lazy, travel a little, visit friends and relatives.

Some of her now free time will be spent cooking, “I love to cook. Unfortunately, I love to eat my own cooking, but I am going to work on that now. “I am not a joiner, not a club or a lunch-bunch person. I have worked all my life in the hair dressing business, except for trips with Sam. Those took me all over: Hawaii, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the cleanest place I’ve ever seen, Toronto.

“But now, the time has come to rest a little.”