A pioneer, an entrepreneur and a survivor in the fight against substance abuse, Catelyn Schnell has made her personality and her brand virtually one-and-the same.
The owner of the wildly successful Catelyn’s Place Day Spa in Anchorage recently opened up a second location near her hometown of Longview-Kelso, a half hour outside of Vancouver, Wash. But life wasn’t always this series of successes for Catelyn.
“I quit working at the bar; I needed a new career because I needed to stop drinking. I always say I went to a kegger in high school, I woke up and was ‘OMG, I’m 40, I needed to get me life together and started recovery; just came up on 14 years ago,” Catelynn said. “Half of my employees work for me because it’s a safe spot. I had one lady who worked for me who was clean for three days and now she’s been clean and sober five years now; it’s a huge blessing for us creating an atmosphere like that. It doesn’t matter who you are, it only matters where you go. I meet a lot of family members who have people who are transgender or their daughter’s coming out at 14 as a lesbian — there’s so many avenues that I get to help people have a solution, and it’s because of my recovery background. It’s just amazing.”
In her early days in recovery, Catelyn sought new behaviors to keep her on the right track.
“I spent years jumping around trying different jobs. I worked at a ski resort as a manager, restaurants, different things. I didn’t really have a career until a friend of mine, Michael, who owned the Academy of Hair Design, who has since passed away, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to go to aesthetic school with him. I took him up on that, graduated in 2007 and then went straight to one of the other salons in town,” she said. “I really liked what I was doing but I wasn’t really loving the way that hair salons and day spas actually were… there were a lot of people coming and going; employees younger and gossipier and I thought, ‘how am I going to do this? It was a spot where I was searching, ‘was this the right profession for me, even if I’m enjoying the work itself?’ Literally, God told me, ‘you can do this by yourself.’ I said, ‘no I can’t.’ He said, ‘I don’t care. You are.’
It was Christmas of 2008 in the heart of the Great Recession when decided to take her shot at owning her own business.
“On faith, I took a space at a downtown chiropractor’s office. I had five clients and could only afford one bag of wax at a time,” said Catelyn. “People had told me that people only get aesthetics out of a hair salon. I guess I didn’t believe them and had to prove them wrong.”
Catelyn had been working a second job as a caregiver in an Alzheimer’s facility, but the breadwinner of her household was her girlfriend Terry Holloway. Slowly but surely Catelyn progressed in her business and in 2013 opened her first full-on salon.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Catelyn said. “I had a friend who owns a couple of businesses and she sat down with me and I told her, ‘I only have a 9th-grade education. I’m really fearful that I’m not going to be smart enough or capable of owning something. But we sat down, did the numbers and what I paid for the salon was exactly, to the penny, what I had in savings.”
The rest, as they say, is history, but Catelyn made more history in her life since recovery. On July 30, 2008, she and Terry were married at the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and after same sex marriage became legal, the couple became the first women in Alaska to be legally married, though not without some resistance from the church.
“They didn’t want to amplify that the first ceremony was any less valid with God,” Catelyn said. “So we had a pronouncement from the pastor — it was more of a celebration of signing the paperwork late.”
In between their official and their ‘paperwork delayed’ marriages, Catelyn and Terry adopted a boy named Lucas, who wound up the ring-bearer in their latter ceremony.
“In the gay community, I didn’t think that was a possibility, but not only did we adopt a little boy without fostering, God again showed up in that area as well. It was a gift to me, never able to have my own children,” Catelyn said.
To some, Catelyn’s Evangelical language may seem contrary to her Lesbian life, but she goes to extremes to avoid labels. “It’s hard for me because I don’t label as gay or lesbian — I don’t like labels, period. I just happen to be married to a woman,” said Catelyn, who had previously, ephemerally and disastrously been married to a man years prior. “When Terry and I started dating I was talking to God about what this looked like. I was a Christian, but I had sexual partners before, who were women but never classified or prayed. God said to me, ‘when you get to Heaven, there’s not a male line and a female line. I judge you on your spirit. Were you kind? Giving? Were you able to love her completely?’ The only fear I did have was telling my parents and actually they accepted it very well. We had almost 400 people at our wedding and my dad walked me down the aisle.”