Our New England Grooming Family Part 1 - Groomer to Groomer

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Our New England Grooming Family Part 1

By Missi Salzberg

There are many ways to define “family.” Traditional definitions include parents and children and immediate relatives. More modern takes on what defines “family” include a wide array of possibilities, including blended families from remarried parents, same-sex parents with children, grandparents raising grandchildren, and so on. If we are lucky enough to have enjoyed a “family” growing up, we are blessed. I was lucky enough to grow up with a few families as defined by my own heart, and this is the story of one of those families.

“Many, many years ago, a small group of groomers got together, and what developed from a lot of follow-up meetings and with a lot more groomers was the first loosely put-together PDG (Professional Dog Groomers). The PDG was an active group of groomers who had great interest in the profession and later became MAPDG (Massachusetts Professional Dog Groomers). I got involved soon after things got started.

“Things started to happen, and the first elections were held. I was the first elected president, and Chris DeFilippo was vice president. There was also a board of directors. The first get-together was in Shrewsbury, MA, and Shirlee Kalstone was the guest speaker and did a lecture on First Aid and CPR for dogs. The day was a great success, and ever since, things have kept getting better and better.  From a small group with a great interest in the well-being of dogs and cats, things have grown into what they are today!” – Dick Marsh

Back in the 1970s, a group of groomers in Massachusetts decided to raise the bar in the grooming profession. They gathered at restaurants and each other’s homes and began having conversations about creating education and excellence in the grooming profession. I remember my mom being involved with the group as secretary at one point and my dad speaking at a workshop, but I was too young to really understand what this was all about. I just knew if I went with my mom or dad to an event or to visit other shops, I got to see people with dogs that loved me! We would visit Nancy Boston at Twickenton, stop by Jack Kennedy’s, or pop in on Dick Marsh’s shop. I remember Christine DeFilippo, Dottie McDermott, and Sue Viveiros from early on. My dad trained to be a groomer with Nancy Boston, and we became very involved in her West Highland Terrier breeding. My first Westie was Barney, and from that point on, there were frequently Westie puppies tearing around the house.

While I was a kid rolling around with Westies, something was brewing here in New England. There was a camaraderie and kinship amongst these people connected by their love and respect for dogs and the art of grooming. The commitment they had to developing an organization to improve groomers’ education was very strong, but above and beyond that, too, was an evolving family – a “grooming family” – that throughout all of these years has continued to grow and remain tight.

“If it weren’t for Shirlee Kalstone and her ‘Groomerama’ (later to become an international show, ‘Intergroom’), we would not have been inspired to participate, getting the word out and connecting with other groomers in our area. We met at each other’s homes, at each other’s shops; other people had ideas and input to help us. We sent out newsletters and information about our Fall Show in Massachusetts to see the new techniques and products available. We felt it would make it a stronger association if we included the New England states and later changed Massachusetts Association of Professional Dog Groomers (MAPDG) to the New England Pet Grooming Professionals. I still continue to support NEPGP by sponsoring the Terrier Intermediate Division competition.” – JoAnne O’Brien

As the organization grew and offered more educational programs, it also became more organized and more professional. In retrospect, some of the people that were instrumental in planting the seeds of this organization have gone on to produce our industry’s biggest events and trade shows and become renowned judges and speakers, award-winning journalists, and some of the most successful business owners in our professional grooming industry. Who knew what was beginning to take shape in Marea Tully’s living room or in the back of that Chinese restaurant? Marea Tully looks back on her service to the organization and remembers the trade show taking shape.

“I am proud to have served as a board member, secretary, vice president, president, and adviser to the MAPDG (Massachusetts Professional Dog Groomers Association), later to be known as NEPGP (New England Professional Pet Groomers). Our focus back then was on educating the groomers on how to run their businesses successfully and how to groom the various breeds properly, hence we had two seminars a year, which NEPGP has continued to this day. For this organization to have lasted 40 years with nothing but volunteers to run it says something in and of itself. Many of the officers would go to Intergroom (Groomerama) and come back with fresh ideas for our NEPGP as it related to the competitions, trade show, and our vendors.” – Marea Tully

The educational seminars really defined the organization early on. The trade show came later and, through the years, has grown into a nationally recognized show. For anyone that has ever been involved with planning a large event like a trade show, it’s an enormous amount of work. The NEPGP has done this as a 100% volunteer organization all of these years. Imagine running your own grooming salon all week and then, in your spare time, planning an event that will draw hundreds and hundreds of attendees, vendors, judges, and require planning with hotels, works crews, sound technicians, and a lot of dogs! Christine DeFilippo remembers:

“Taking a look back at all my years with NEPGP… Ahhh… In the ‘70s and the ‘80s, we all worked ourselves to the bone putting together seminars, finding speakers, putting together the catalog (as well as designing it), and getting companies to come and support the trade show. I don’t remember how many years we (the board) all worked as well as paid for entrance to the show as well as for our hotel rooms! We really did not think much about it except that we had to each do it to make the show a success.

“For many years, I left, along with everyone else, at the end of the show (not staying an extra night because we could not afford it) and then driving home with swollen feet and complete exhaustion! The first year that a hotel offered me a free room as show coordinator, I nearly fell over on the carpet! Then we got the hang of it and started to really look at what the hotels would give us and how to get sponsors. We were growing our roots, and we grew them well! During those years, I served as president, show coordinator, and sweeper when necessary! Since that time, I have been honored to be a vendor (with advertising about Intergroom), speaker, judge, and consultant on occasion. I hope this will continue.” – Christine DeFilippo

This learning curve has served Christine well, and she has gone on to own and present Intergroom in New Jersey each year. Sue Zecco, who served in many capacities over the years at NEPGP, has also gone on to present nationally respected grooming shows. Patty Allard, who served as a board member in different positions, including president, remembers those Monday board meetings and why the maître d’ always sat this NEPGP crew accordingly.

“When I think of my years as president and co-coordinator of NEPGP, I always remember the ‘every other month on a Monday’ board meetings. These meetings took place at a centrally located Chinese buffet. The restaurant sat us in the back, because they knew we would be loud. I remember the many, many, many hours of brain storming that went into the Fall Festival. Each one of the Board Members gave their all, especially show weekend where everybody would do whatever it took to produce a great show. I think of the many times we were up very late laying down the plastic for the contest ring and seminar rooms. I know I never said it enough, or in some cases not at all: ‘Thank You’ to all of you who helped to make the NEPGP Fall Festival such a great and successful show during my presidency.”

-Patty Allard

One of the mission statements of the NEPGP over the years reads, “Our core values, development of our craft, pursuit of excellence including grooming to breed profile, environment that cultivates the best in each of our members has put us ‘light years ahead’ of the industry. Continued education and camaraderie are still top priority today. We welcome anyone in to share in this pursuit. We are committed to the ongoing development of our shared body of knowledge. We encourage individual members to utilize what we offer as they ascend in their career.”

The camaraderie of the people in this organization has gone above and beyond throughout the years. Their commitment to one another as friends has always been one of my favorite traits of this organization. When Jack Kennedy lost his shop in a fire, he and his staff were welcomed with open arms into Christine’s store to keep the business going. When my family lost the Village Groomer to a blaze, friends from the NEPGP were incredibly supportive. During my father’s long battle with cancer, my grooming family was always present, and some of our local groomers were there to donate blood when he needed a transfusion. My mom, who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2011, reminds me of that commitment we have to one another.

“I am proud to be one of the original members of the NEPGP. It gave me the opportunity to get to know my fellow groomers and be involved in the planning stages of this wonderful organization that has since grown to attract national interest on the annual grooming show calendar. It has provided wonderful opportunities for its members to learn and grow in their grooming careers.”

“Those meetings we had back then were full of fun and friendship. When I received the NEPGP Pillar Award last year, I felt very moved and grateful. While I was in assisted living last year during my recovery from my aneurysm, I was delighted to be visited by Toni Coppola and Linda Cooper-Claflin, who brought me well wishes from the members, gorgeous flowers, and even a stuffed toy puppy to keep me company! And Missi, your hosting of our shows and close relationship with these lifelong friends makes it seem to me that my link to this great organization has come full circle.” – Kathy Salzberg

“Our family has grown throughout the decades and has come to include dear friends that come and support our annual trade show as vendors. Some of these vendors were from our home turf, like J.M. Brady Company and Pet Edge, while others traveled to be with us and came to really love our New England family and our Fall Festival. It’s always worth our time to come up and support the New England Pet Grooming Professionals. It’s always good to see the friendly New England people.” – Frank, Dan, and Debbie Rowe (Frank Rowe and Son, PA)

“Besides being busy reconditioning shears and selling products all weekend, we love the hotel, lots of good restaurants in the area, and the NEPGP people are friendly. The New England Pet Grooming Professionals even threw a birthday party for our daughter, Samantha, and she and my father arrived in a limo – very memorable.” – Randy, Cheryl, and Samantha Lowe (Precision Sharp, PA)

The speakers that the NEPGP has hosted over the years have also come to love the Spring Flings and other educational events. I was invited to speak a few years back, and it was incredible. There is a thirst for knowledge here in this New England grooming community. Over the years, there have been programs on breed standards, grooming techniques, safety and CPR, retailing, and so much more. Most recently, Margery Good and Sarah Hawks were in town to teach an almost sold-out event. This is the kind of talent and level of expertise the NEPGP brings to its membership!

Sarah had a great workshop and said, “We enjoyed the opportunity to share knowledge with your attendees so much! We would love to come back and do it again but for two days – one day was not enough!”

Next month, I will continue the story of the NEPGP family and looking forward to our bright future. Stay tuned for some very exciting news from the NEPGP and Barkleigh Productions!

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