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Published: Sunday, 1/16/2011

Denise Soto, 1959-2011: Ex-salon owner nurtured hundreds

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Denise Soto, known for her personal care as a hairstylist, makeup artist, and salon owner who most recently trained students at her salon academy, died Saturday in her Perrysburg home of complications from cancer. She was 51.

She worked into last month, said her husband, Charlie, with whom she owned the Salon Professional Academy. "She was a firm believer [in], as she used to call it, 'walking through your fears,'" he said.

When she learned she had breast cancer, she called her students together both to report her news and to let them know that they'd have clients in similar straits and they'd "need to help them, and encourage them to walk through those fears," he said.

"Denise was a nurturer, and she helped so many of her clients through the battles she went through the last year and a half," he said.

She no longer did hands-on hair and makeup work regularly and instead taught students and ran the academy, which opened about five years ago. The school's more than 700 graduates work in salons in northwest Ohio and 12 other states, her husband said.

She taught technique and aesthetics. She taught how to run a business. She also taught the importance of good corporate citizenship. She invited YWCA staff to talk with students about noticing the signs, emotional and physical, of domestic violence. From the mid-1990s on, she closed her salon to the public for several hours at least monthly so clients with cancer could have privacy.

"She never expected and often shied away from the recognition she should have received for the things she was doing in the community," her husband said.

She formerly owned a salon in Maumee and, in 2000, moved to larger quarters in Perrysburg.

"She really helped me to become a professional and to be a strong woman," said Jessica Johnson, who worked for Mrs. Soto. Ms. Johnson and her sister, Jennifer Eppard, own what is now Soto Loft and Signature Spa, Perrysburg. "She was strong artistically and had a strong creative mind and was so in tune with her technical ability. She was very in tune with people, spiritually and in every way."

Mrs. Soto was a graduate of Rossford High School. She aspired to be a makeup artist and went to the Toledo Academy of Beauty Culture on St. Clair Street downtown. She and her husband moved to California and lived for about a decade in Las Vegas. He was a production manager for television and stage. She worked on fashion shows and photo shoots and was part of a hair design team that traveled the world. Entertainment figures were her clients. "Denise was the quintessential overachiever. She accomplished everything she set out to do," said her husband, a former news photographer for WUPW-TV, Channel 36. The couple returned to Toledo in 1989, as they'd always intended.

Surviving are her husband, Charles, whom she married in July, 1981; daughter, Grace Soto; sons, Mark and Evan Soto; stepdaughters, Gina Soto and Lisa DeMartino; mother, Deloris Riley, and brothers, Rick, Mark, Christopher, David, James, and Steve Gallaher.

There will be no visitation. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Blessed John XXIII Parish, Perrysburg, where she was a member.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter, Toledo.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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