Duo Shaves Heads for Beloved Chehalis Receptionist Battling Cancer


Those who frequent the Chehalis Safeway likely know checker Ken Wiseman, the loud, jolly guy who remembers names and phone numbers with scary accuracy.

And those who’ve purchased a vehicle or paid for services with I-5 Toyota in Chehalis likely know receptionist Tonja Vlach for a similar reason. 

Named “best grocery checker” and “best receptionist” respectively in The Chronicle’s Best of Lewis County annual awards, nominated and voted on by the public, the two are well-known Chehalis lifers. Both boast the cheery faces and small-town-feel intimacy that businesses strive to attain. 

When Wiseman and his family lost possessions in a fire more than a decade ago, community members were there for support, even with gestures as simple as a home-cooked meal. When Vlach, who’s worked for I-5 Cars for 15 years, was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer earlier this year, Wiseman felt a duty to pay it forward. 

The outlook for her recovery is positive, said Tonja’s younger-but-not-littler brother, Ty Vlach, a woodworker and owner of Chehalis-based “Big Guy Upholstery.” 

But the treatment is no cake-walk. She’s undergoing chemotherapy weeks ahead of surgery, after which she’ll go through radiation. And she’s lost her hair. But, in that department as of this week, she’s not alone.

“We're going to shave (Wiseman’s) head bald,” Ty Vlach said on Tuesday night. “For my sister Tonja, who's battling cancer right now. So we're all going bald.”

“Ty did it,” Wiseman said as he whisked a disposable razor in a bowl of soapy water. “His sister lost her hair by no choice of hers. I, as a man of my age, am very fortunate to have the head of hair that I do.”

The Vlach family over the weekend will host a Facebook auction with various donated items including wood projects from Wiseman and Ty Vlach, donations from local businesses including an outdoor firepit donated by I-5 Cars, a chainsaw from Service Saw Workwear and time at a resort in Bend. The event will be in a silent auction format online, where commenters can place bids under photos of the items. It will last from Friday, June 2 to Monday, June 5. 

With his public-facing job, Wiseman hopes his newly-bald head will get people’s attention so he can hype up the auction, which could help cover the family’s medical costs.

As he ran the disposable razor through Wiseman’s hair, slowly chipping away at a thick mop, Ty spoke about his donation to the auction.

“I have a sign, it says, instead of a ‘She-Shed,’ we’re having a ‘Bitch Barn,’” he said.

Beyond shaving his head and helping with the auction, Ty Vlach has been a supportive brother, driving Tonja to appointments in Seattle and encouraging her. 

“I know too much about my sister’s boobs. We were laughing about that, because I go to all her appointments,” he said, later adding, “I just try to make her laugh and just be there when she needs anything.”

To participate in the online auction, head to https://www.facebook.com/events/763190698621989 or search “Team Tonja Auction” on Facebook.