Greenwood teen has shown how he cares with his hair
Hair has been somewhat of a defining attribute for Devin Degenhardt. As a young boy, he had all of his shaved off to show empathy for an aunt who had lost hers due to cancer treatments. Then he grew it out — and out some more — and over the last dozen years has donated almost four feet of it to organizations that give wigs to those who lose their locks to illness. Soon, he’ll come full circle, and go back to a short buzz as a new United States Army recruit. Devin, of Greenwood, who turns 18 this month, made his third donation of hair on June 20, with a 17inch swath going to Wigs for Kids. It’s his third donation since he was in fifth grade, and an ongoing tribute to an aunt who passed away when he was a young boy. It will also be his last, he says, as he’s headed to Oklahoma in a few weeks to start training as an Army combat medic.
The son of Darin and Florence Degenhardt of Greenwood, Devin and his older brother Jonathon were concerned for their aunt Denise Malinowski when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Just young fellows at the time, the brothers decided they would support her by shaving their heads so they would look like her.
“They both shaved theirs just so she wouldn’t feel so awkward,” Florence said. “It was their choice. That’s what they wanted to do to make Denise not feel so awk- ward.” Denise passed away in August 2007, but Darin’s memory of her stayed alive. After his head had been shaven as a youngster, he started to grow out his hair, and by fifth grade had enough to donate a 12-inch length. By the end of eighth grade, it was ready again, and he gave another foot to be used for a wig for someone who had lost their natural hair to treatment for an illness. Devin said his long hair became part of who he was. When he was first growing it out, some of his peers made fun of him, he said, but that changed when they learned his story. “Then they found out why I was growing out my hair,” he said. “Then it was, ‘Oh, it’s just Devin. He has long hair.’” Through his high school years, Devin avoided the barber, growing his hair out longer than ever. A runner with the Greenwood cross country and track teams, he was easy to recognize with his unique coiffure.
“It just felt like it was normal,” he said.
“Normal” had to come to an end, though, as Darin neared graduation from Greenwood High School this spring and made a rather sudden, life-changing decision. He had planned to get a job, but instead talked to a U.S. Army recruiter and enlisted.
Darin kept quiet about his decision, until graduation day. Greenwood held an online graduation ceremony on June 13, and at that time, he still had not revealed his plans. During the ceremony, his future plans were listed as “enter the workforce.”
Later that day, at a second event for the graduating class in Willard, Devin made his reveal, with his parents watching. This time, the presenter said “military” for his future plans.
“I touched Darin, ‘Did I like here that right?’” Florence said.
She had. Influenced by his brother-in-law, veteran Miguel Wynn of Greenwood, Devin said he made a firm decision to join the Army for the opportunities it can offer him. He said he watched his older brother work in a factory after school and did not like what he saw of the lifestyle.
“It was a harsh reality for me to see,” he said. “I won’t let that happen to me. I want to do something where I can hopefully grow.”
Florence said Devin was always interested in soldiers, since he was a young boy.
“When he was little, he had his Panzers and his tanks and his guns,” she said.
That natural interest, combined with Wynn’s encouragement, led him to to pull the proverbial trigger on a career path. The decision to become a combat medic was a natural one, and he’s thinking it may lead to a career as an EMT/paramedic.
“I’ve always thought of like, going into the medical field,” Devin said. “The idea of being able to help people is really nice.”
A week after the graduation ceremony and his surprise announcement, Devin made the inevitable visit to Family Roots in Christie for the cut that will finally leave him among the short-haired population. He said he was probably going to get it cut anyway this fall, but knew he had to be shorn before his induction.
“They’ll probably buzz it all off,” Devin said. “I’m trying to get used to short hair before I go bald.”
He’s also trying to prepare himself mentally and physically for the rigors he knows will come with Army life. He’s trusting Miguel, who told him, “It’s gonna be tough, but it’s gonna be worth it in the end.”
As for Aunt Denise, Devin expects she’s looking down with an approving eye.
“I think she’d be really proud,” said Florence. “She was such a wonderful, wonderful person.”