The OCRegister reports:
A black-and-white newspaper clipping from a 1974 edition of the Fullerton Tribune shows a grinning woman stroking her cheeks in an upward motion, showing patients at a convalescent hospital how to properly apply facial cream.
Dena Edwards, the woman in the photo, was already well into her career selling cosmetics with Mary Kay Inc. when that photo was taken. She started her career 46 years ago and hasn’t stopped working since.
Even today, the bottom of her pink business card reads: “Call me for a complimentary facial.”
Edwards celebrated her 90th birthday on Saturday.
Crowned with a sparkly silver tiara, Edwards greeted old friends, colleagues and customers at the active senior residential community in Fullerton she calls home. Today, she maintains more than 150 Mary Kay customers as an executive senior sales director.
“It was more than selling,” she said of her career. “It’s to help other women with their goals and make them happier.”
Atop Edwards’s office desk sits an old-fashioned Rolodex and stacks of correspondence, colored cards and Mary Kay pamphlets. In one corner of the room stands an antique schooldesk from the years she spent as a teacher.
Born to Greek immigrants, Edwards spent her childhood in Pennsylvania conversing with the tourists who passed through her family’s restaurant.
“I had a goal to get a pen pal from every state as a child,” she said. “I used to keep a ledger on when I received letters and when I answered them.”
After graduating from Pennsylvania State University in 1948, Edwards moved to California to teach elementary school. Twenty years later, while visiting her cousin in Texas, Edwards was introduced to a woman who would change her life.
Edwards met a makeup entrepreneur named Mary Kay Ash, whose 6-year-old business was searching for women to sell cosmetics in California. Edwards soon left for a teacher’s convention in Philadephia, but the meeting had intrigued her. While visiting her mother’s house in Coudersport, Penn., she went raspberry picking with brother and found herself saying or thinking the words “Mary Kay” with every berry she picked.
On her way home to California, Edwards took a detour to Dallas and became a Mary Kay consultant – it was 1969.
Some of her teacher colleagues questioned her decision.
“Several teachers got me in a corner and said, ‘You’re making a big mistake! You have tenure to teach, you have a son to raise,” Edwards said. “At that point I was single. They were trying to talk me out of it… But I did it anyway and I’ve never been sorry.”
By the time she quit teaching in 1970, Edwards had already secured enough customers to become a director.
“Mary Kay always told us to set goals. My first goal was 10 by May, because I needed to have so many recruits before I could go into management,” she recalled. “Then I said 20 by June. I ended up with 18.”
In her crisp white mink Mary Kay uniform, Edwards spent her days recruiting women to become sellers, booking houses for demonstrations and selling makeup herself. She was invited to teach seminars at Mary Kay conferences and won four of the famed pink Cadillacs through the company’s incentive program.
“I believed in the product, I believed in the company, and Mary Kay had the right philosophy,” Edwards said. “She says, ‘God first, family second and career third.’ I’ve always followed that.”
Stephens Ernst remembered the day his mother recruited customers in the waiting room of a courthouse, days after he received a ticket for driving a go-kart through the Fullerton streets. Ernst, then 16, was mortified – his mother could recruit sellers anywhere she went, including waittresses who served the family at restaurants.
Ernst also did chores for the business as a teenager, sterilizing brushes, making deliveries and answering phone calls.
His voice softens as he talks about how Edwards excelled in her career.
“My mom knows how to set herself aside and seek ways to uplift other people. That’s the key to her success,” he said. “When someone has a negative personality, she’s going to find a way to acknowledge that person. I’ve seen people turn around (their attitude) in her presence.”
He recalled days spent weeding ice plants at the family’s Fullerton home. His mother would string a line in the back yard and tell him he couldn’t play until that section was rid of weeds.
“She’d always say, ‘Don’t stop now! We’re almost there! Keep going!’ which has been our credo between the two of us forever,” Ernst said.
Carol Long of Lake Elsinore, 73, is also familiar with Edwards’s encouraging spirit. Long remembers how Edwards “built confidence” in her when she started working for Mary Kay as a single mother.
“She’s one of those loud voices in my head. Every time I’ve needed it over the years, I’ve heard Dena say ‘You can do this,’” said Long, who still works for Mary Kay. “She said, ‘never just tell us your name. Stand up and tell us who you want to be.’”
One year, Edwards said she recruited a Holocaust survivor suffering from depression. As a child, the woman had endured the horrors of Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany. Edwards convinced the woman’s husband that joining Mary Kay would help her by getting her “away from the pots and pans.” It did.
“To this day she says, ‘Dena, you saved my life, really,’” Edwards said.
Edwards hasn’t kept most of her awards – in fact, she even disassembled some of her wooden plaques, calling them mere “things” she didn’t care about. What she kept instead were the connections: friends, family and colleagues who have stories to share, people who helped run her business when she was battling colon cancer in 2002.
“They’ve always been there for me, so there’s no reason for me to ever quit,” she said. “Working was part of my life. It would never be considered to give it up. I’ll have it til I die.”
Nowadays, Edwards balances Mary Kay with volunteering, singing and Bible class. In the last couple years, she’s begun delegating customers to other consultants so she can focus on another passion in her life: writing.
Writing, she said, is her “second love,” and she aspires to pen an anecdotal biography of her time with Mary Kay.
One of her latest stories talks about how she can dance the jitterbug. Four months ago, at a local jazz concert, Edwards finally got the chance to boogie again.
“(A professional dancer) came and danced with me, and we were very good,” she recalled. “When I got off the dance floor, I just raised my hand and said, ‘I’ve been waiting 36 years to do this!’”
To some fellow Morningside retirement community residents, Edwards is now the the “Dance Queen.” To Mary Kay, she is a member of the company’s “Queen’s Court of Sales.” To a Fullerton preschool, she is the lady who donates old cereal boxes and ice cream containers for their pretend grocery store. And to her customers, she is more than a consultant.
Dixie Plinski, 66, a spiritual director from Placentia, said she admires Edwards for her tenacity. Over a decade ago, Plinski and her daughter met Edwards through Mary Kay.
“She was more than a consultant. She was a good person,” Plinski said. “We were surprised she was still working, surprised at her vigor… And with that, (she had) a lovely spirit, a smile and hope for tomorrow.”
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