Decades & Dedication

By Leslie Young
[Editor's Note]

In a time characterized by conservatism and conformity, Irene Simonen Gauthier was one of those who cast off tradition and started exploring massage. It was the 1950s. People were recovering from World War II with the help of nonconformists such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot.

The world is a different place now, changed by hard-working, tenacious individuals like Irene. At a celebration on June 18, she will celebrate her 90th birthday with her fans and family at Irene’s Myomassology Institute in Southfield, Michigan, northwest of Detroit. Time sometimes clouds Irene’s mind, so her story is preserved by her daughter and successor Kathy Gauthier. 

Born to a Finnish family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Irene moved to Detroit as a teenager in 1938, attended beauty school, opened a salon, and became fascinated with the healing arts, namely massage. By the 1970s, Irene (nicknamed “Fanny”) started sharing her knowledge with students in her basement. “In 1987, Irene opened her state-licensed school at the age of 67—when most people would retire,” Kathy says. “Utilizing her natural born gift and years of experience, she developed myomassology as a comprehensive healing art. Myomassology provides the therapist with a variety of skills to tailor to each client, allowing maximum healing to occur.”

The determination that characterizes Irene’s life is akin to others of her era. Tough times called for tenacity. Like Ida Rolf who came before her or her contemporary Ilse Middendorf (tribute on page 68), Irene can be pointed—too direct for some—and she knows it, dubbing herself “Grumpy Old Mamma Bear.” That grit helped her raise four children as a single parent. “She put three girls through college practicing massage and doing hair in the basement of her house,” Kathy says.

As Irene taught others, she found her own life enriched personally and professionally, leading to her school’s motto: “Where careers begin and lives are transformed.”

“Helping people feel better brings her great joy,” Kathy says. “She is an extremely gifted healer. Many have witnessed her innate ability to sense people’s pain and relieve it.”

As the bodywork profession grows and matures in the United States, its icons are passing on. One look at beautiful faces such as Irene’s, Ilse’s, and Ida’s and I wish I could absorb the wisdom in every wrinkle and hear the stories that lie behind the sparks in their eyes. And I also wish you an incredible birthday celebration, Irene. You’ve earned it.


Leslie A. Young, Editor in Chief