When life gives you lemons sometimes the best thing to do is make lemonade. The old adage certainly rang true Thursday, as a crowd of supporters including family, friends and co-workers gathered at the Mount Clemens Fire Department to see firefighter Josh Ringstad getting his hair cut for Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids of Michigan.
“I started this because of the pandemic,” said Josh, while fielding questions from the media, and jokes from his fellow firefighters including his older brother, Lt. Keith Ringstad.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the barbershops were closed and since his hair was already pretty long by the time they reopened, Josh figured it would be a good time to help the charitable organization that provides wigs and support services at no charge to children and young adults experiencing hair loss due to cancer and other disorders.
Under normal circumstance doing so would be in direct violation of the fire department’s grooming code but this past 15 months has been anything but normal.
“I think if I was doing it as fashion statement it would have never gone over but we’re in a global pandemic, so, hopefully it’s a once in a lifetime event,” Josh said.
Besides, it was for a good cause and he had the full support of his wife, Nicole, who helped to keep his curly locks from becoming too unruly, although Josh found out early on why the fire department has a grooming rule.
“There were several times when my hair got caught in my mask and my helmet,” he said.
Being a long-haired firefighter also made him the target of the typical fire hall antics that follow certain experiences and a few nicknames, the most beloved of them being, “Hair Bear.”
These jokesters, however, were also the ones who supported Josh through the entire campaign along with Mount Clemens Fire Chief Gregg Shipman.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s a great cause,” Shipman said. “He probably has a little more respect for what the women in his life have to go through in order to do their hair. I know it’s been a lot of work for him but also his wife. After all this, he better-be taking her out for dinner.”
His lieutenant and brother was also happy about his success.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Keith Ringstad. “I thought he was joking. I didn’t think he was seriously going to grow it out because I know it can take a long time.”
The American Academy of Dermatology says hair grows about 1/2-inch per month on average, which adds up to about 6 inches per year. Since the charity usually needs about 7 inches of growth per wig it can take a person anywhere from two to three years to have enough to donate.
Once Josh told his family he was serious Keith knew he would be able to do it.
“He’s a very determined guy,” he said.
For Josh, being the father of a little boy with another son on the way, it was all about what he could do for other kids.
“I actually saw Maggie at an event we were at,” Josh said.
During the meeting, the founder of the nonprofit talked about what the wigs mean to children who have lost their hair because of cancer treatments or a fire.
“I couldn’t imagine my child going through that and at the end of the day I feel I didn’t doing anything, but let my hair grow,” he said.
Others around him Thursday, said it was his actions that prompted them to join the campaign, including Ashleigh Ringstad (Josh’s cousin), Gina New and Sarah Jones.
New said for years she has wanted to donate her hair, about five years and more than 12-inches of hair to be exact, and hearing about Josh got her to commit.
“Oh my, gosh, it’s going to be crazy,” said New, flipping her long black hair back over her shoulders.
Watching Josh take his seat for the official haircut, an honor bestowed up Josh’s barber at Headquarters for Men by Renee Schuppe, was Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids Executive Team Development Director Jennifer Fisher.
“I can’t believe he picked our organization,” Fisher said. “He’s so very kind to donate his hair to help children in his own community.”
Since the St. Clair Shores-based Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids started 18 years ago more than 5,000 children have received a wig that helps them emotionally, psychologically and socially.
“Our firefighters are our heroes,” Fisher said, noting that among the children Josh will be helping are children who have been injured in a fire.
In addition to raising awareness about what the charity does, Josh’s involvement helped in raising money for the cause. His goal at the start of the hair-raising journey was $1,000, which covers the cost of one wig and the services that go along with it. In the end, and with the support of the other women donating their hair, his family, co-workers and members of the community following the cause on Facebook, the group is expected to surpass his goal by about $3,000.
“I love it,” Nicole said, while watching Josh get his first haircut in over a year. “I’m happy he did it but I’m also happy that it’s all over.”
For more information about Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids visit wigs4kids.org or call 586-772-6656.