Verna Simon loves the outdoors. “I think about the birds, I think about the garden on my front steps, I think about it all! I love hiking and walking. I just love hanging out in nature.”
Currently a senior research technologist at Mayo Clinic in the genomics core laboratory, Verna works with gene expression and is known as “the single cell queen.”
Cars from the start
In addition to her scientific, nature loving mind, Verna has a long-standing interest in cars. “I have always enjoyed cars,” she says. “I am a bit geeky about it and have wanted to learn as much as I could about them since I was a kid.” She says she would query her dad about all aspects of automobiles, and she is grateful to her father for “not putting me in a box because I was a girl.” She recalls that he was always eager and open to sharing information with her about the mechanics of cars.
Growing up in the 70s, Verna’s family drove a big Oldsmobile. Like many teenagers, she gave a lot of thought to what her first car would be; she recalls originally wanting a sports car. She ended up with an old Buick that lasted her through college.
After college she purchased a VW Jetta. Although it wasn’t a vintage car, it was fun to drive, which continues to be important to her. Eventually she was able to find a nice vintage car of her own: Luna, a 1966 Pontiac Lemans that is “totally drivable and runs very well.” She drives it a lot in the summertime and is adamant that it is not for sale.
Vintage in a modern age
Verna acknowledges that the future of vintage cars is “up in the air, and necessarily so” with well-deserved concern around pollution from older car engines. There is an effort to convert older cars to electrified platforms, but some collectors ask, “Is it still the same car; is it legitimate?” Verna sees no conflict and says, “I find electric cars really fascinating; I think my next ‘daily driver’ will be an electric model.”
Verna notes that there isn’t much diversity in the vintage car community in this area. Most are white, male and middle-aged, even though she knows that there are younger individuals, African Americans and Latinx car enthusiasts. Additionally, she knows that there is a diversity of collectors with beautiful, “tricked out” and “fancy lowrider” vehicles that are not often seen at the shows, and she would really like to see more of these kinds of cars and these people there. At times, she feels uncomfortable being among the few people of color at the shows, and she has felt that some people do not think she should be participating. She has been subjected to funny looks, and it is not a good feeling.
One thing Verna loves is the pinup culture that accompanies the shows. This is a family friendly and beautiful aspect of the shows, and “not what the original use of the term might have indicated,” Verna says. Women dress up in vintage clothing from the same era as the cars they highlight, styling their hair and wearing jewelry from the era. Verna sees diversity here, as women of all sizes and shapes participate. “You will see some folks with purple hair, others with sleeve tattoos, and a multitude of other unique aspects of their person; they will be dressed in this vintage clothing and take part in the shows.” She loves that women who dress in vintage clothing are incredibly supportive, “always encouraging each other and complimenting your look.”