JOHNSONVILLE, S.C. (WBTW) — Mary Generette-Owens started her life of service early. She grew up in the small town of Johnsonville.

“We didn’t have a whole lot, but we didn’t know we didn’t have a whole lot,” Generette-Owens said.

As soon as she was old enough, she started working in tobacco to help her mother pay the bills. A few years later, Generette-Owens was one of the selected students for a pilot program for integrating schools. But when she got there, she briefly second-guessed her decision.

“Throwing spitballs,” Generette-Owens said. “If you came down the hall, they went to the right of the hall. There were racial slurs given to us. They would move their seats. But as time went on, I guess the heart of some of the students, and the heart of the teachers, I must say the teachers were very understanding. I could see it in their eyes and that’s how I knew I was going to kind of be OK. But we stuck together and eventually we were able to come together better. I got to play basketball.”

But it was still a tough time.

“There were some mornings where I didn’t really want to go,” Generette-Owens said. “But I was already committed. If you say you’re going to do something, you go ahead and do it. You don’t run from it.”

And that phrase set the stage for the rest of Mary’s life. She went on to open the first Black salon in Johnsonville in the ’80s. At the time, she was also a nurse, a single mom to two kids, and needed a second job.

“I was sitting in the salon, I was waiting to get my hair done, then this voice — I knew it was the spirit of the Lord and said ‘Watch her, because that’s what you’re going to be doing.’ I said hair? Me do hair?”

A few weeks later, Generette-Owens enrolled in beauty school during the day and worked at night. She was soon able to minister to many people through the hospital and salon.

“I always knew that I had a calling for ministry,” she said. “Everything I was doing was already centered around helping somebody, with my business, DJJ, the school district.”

She supported the DJJ program, domestic violence groups and other community programs as a ministry through her salon. And she ministers because she had an example.

“Because someone poured their life into me at a very young age,” she said. “You can’t have something poured into you and not have it come back out. The lady that poured into me helped me recognize shortcomings and what people go through.”

Generette-Owens said she doesn’t do it for the recognition, but does it to glorify her God.

She went back to school at the age of 50 and went on to get her doctorate. She also works as a college skills instructor.