When Emma Kaliterna’s beauty salon Emma’s Coiffures opened on Franklin Street back in 1939, a haircut cost only 25 cents and a shampoo and set was 50 cents. Kaliterna, 97 years young, has been doing hair for 77 years in her shop.
“I’m semi-retired now,” Kaliterna says. “Sometimes it takes me one to two hours to do someone’s hair because my customer and I are busy talking to each other. We are like family. Doing hair is good for my health and keeps me young. I call the time I do hair my ‘social hour.'”
Kaliterna attended Fremont Elementary School and Santa Clara High School. She also studied at Sullivan Beauty College in San Jose back when tuition for her entire program was just $80.
Born in 1918 in Santa Clara, Kaliterna was raised in a house on Lewis Street that is still standing. She remembers her childhood as a time when “things were easier.”
“Growing up in Santa Clara, the neighborhood kids and I used to play Kick the Can outside,” Kaliterna remembers. “We used to also play hide-and-seek. There were no cars or stoplights out here then. It cost 10 cents to see a movie at the theater. There were apricot orchards everywhere, all the way to Saratoga. When I was 15 or 16, my friends and I used to bike to Saratoga and pick apricots along the way. Santa Clara was a thriving town when I was growing up.”
Kaliterna grew up with two brothers and one sister. She shares her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and her mother’s interest in gardening.
“My father Sisto Fontana started Mission Trails, which was a Santa Clara scavenger company,” she says. “When it first started, he had a wagon and two horses and he would pick up the garbage for 50 cents a month from each house. My mother Catherine was a housewife. She loved gardening.”
Kaliterna is known for keeping a “tip jar” in her salon and throwing parties and fashion shows to fundraise. Over the years, Kaliterna has raised over $100,000 for many causes, including local schools, the Santa Clara City Library, the Santa Clara Aquamaids, the Santa Clara Vanguard, the Triton Museum of Art and the Harris-Lass Historical Museum. She once served on the city’s Cultural Advisory Commission.
“I like doing things and giving things to people,” Kaliterna says.
Kaliterna has a scrapbook featuring about 25 years of events and fundraisers she has hosted, including a Miss Santa Clara competition, a roaring 20s party, a circus-themed fashion show and a go-go girl themed party.
“[My husband] Mickey was the master of ceremonies, I was the host and [my daughter] Danielle gave out campaign pins during election year,” Kaliterna says.
Kaliterna looks forward to turning 98 in December. She continues to stay in great shape by doing floor exercises and working in her garden. Just in the last year, Kaliterna painted her patio and the front of her house.
“I’ve started to paint the side of my house,” she says. “I like projects.”