Baton Rouge massage therapist credits family for helping her set high standards and find her path in life

By Amanda McElfresh,

This article is brought to you by Cox Business.

Rosemary Wilkinson always knew she wanted to help people. She was in the medical magnet program at Glen Oaks High School and enrolled at LSU to study biology. Named after her grandmothers Rosalie Garner and Mary Hardin, Wilkinson always kept in mind their teachings about hard work and dedication.

“I knew I was going to do something with my hands and something with the human body,” Wilkinson said. “I was really thinking I was going to become an OB/GYN.”

Those ambitions were possible thanks to Wilkinson’s parents, who established a solid foundation for her and her six siblings. They moved to Baton Rouge from Plaquemine when Wilkinson was less than a year old for better opportunities. Wilkinson’s father was a supervisor in the LSU landscaping department, retiring after 35 years. Her mother was a supervisor in the State Police permits department and recently took a medical retirement after 25 years.

“They instilled a strong work ethic in all of us,” Wilkinson said. “They always taught us to never get tired of working hard and that hard work will always pay off.”

Although Wilkinson worked hard and initially did well at LSU, she got sidetracked when she began helping care for her grandmother, who suffered from a degenerative disc disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The caretaking involved Wilkinson massaging her grandmother, with surprising results.

“I would wake her up every morning and rub her hands and legs,” Wilkinson said. “She would feel so much better. Right after I was done, she would get up and start cooking.”

After Wilkinson spoke to her grandmother’s doctors, she realized she was doing massage therapy. But then, Wilkinson learned she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer. After treatments and lifestyle changes, Wilkinson was declared cancer-free within a couple of years and was more determined than ever to use her talents to heal others.

Wilkinson earned her biology degree from LSU, then immediately enrolled in massage therapy school. She graduated from Moore Career College in Baton Rouge and learned under world-renowned therapist Kathie Lea. She began working at a top-rated spa, but never gave up on the dream of opening her own practice.

Part of that inspiration came from her older siblings, who have achieved their own professional success. The third girl of seven children, Wilkinson knew she had big shoes to fill. But she was motivated to show her siblings that being successful doesn’t always mean punching a clock at the office.

“One of the hardest times in my life was trying to work while undergoing chemo treatments,” she said. “I decided to never wanted to deal with that aspect of my life ever again. I wanted to be able to take care of my health and still earn a living for my family.”

With personal experience and formal training under her belt, Wilkinson opened Renew and Heal Wellness in January 2016. Besides massage therapy, Wilkinson and her staff offer body scrubs, body wraps, body contouring, sports massages and treatments that help balance an individual’s chakras and channel inner energy.

“No client who walks in can say they have received the exact same service as another client,” Wilkinson said. “I definitely became more aware of the human body when I went through cancer. I’ve noticed that different treatments yield different results for different people.”

When a new client comes in, Wilkinson or a staff member first discuss the client’s daily routine, sources of stress and anxiety and which body parts cause them the most problems. They then work with the client to create the appropriate treatment plan.

Sometimes, clients are family. Wilkinson’s parents and siblings are regulars, but insist on being charged the same as any other client. For Wilkinson, it’s particularly meaningful to give some relief to her dad, who opened his own lawn business after retiring from LSU, and her mother, who has Type 2 diabetes.

“Watching my mother still get up and make a living in such a high demand job while battling her own health issues was a big motivation for me,” Wilkinson said. “My father inspired me so much in my final years at LSU. Watching him care for my mother made me realize that Renew and Heal had the blessings I needed. I prayed over my business plans daily while in massage therapy school.”

Since the pandemic, Wilkinson has taken extra precautions to keep clients safe. The spa is sanitized and disinfected between clients. All staff wear masks. Clients must pass COVID-19 screening questions and must not have traveled out of state in the previous 14 days.

“We are following every guideline and even doing more than we probably need to,” Wilkinson said. “It has cost me some clients, but at the end of the day, we are all sleeping a little easier knowing that we are taking those extra steps to ensure we are not spreading the virus. I never want my business to be a place where someone contracts COVID.”

Wilkinson said most clients now are dealing with stress-related problems. Many miss human contact and daily interactions with others. Parents break down over whether it is safe to send their children to school. Some are overwhelmed by social media and world events.

“Sometimes, I’ll get on the phone with a client because they need somebody. We’ll have a 15- or 20-minute conversation about the changes going on and things they can do, like journaling or enjoying nature,” she said. “This virus has definitely shown me a different side of my clients and they have seen a different side of me.”

Wilkinson credits other lessons from her parents with helping her keep the business afloat. From a young age, they taught her and her siblings to be frugal and save money for a rainy day.

“My parents taught us about the importance of saving and having a plan for if things take a downturn. I was able to use those lessons during this pandemic,” she said. “It’s just about having a plan and making sure we can survive if anything happens.”

In her personal life, Wilkinson has returned to her small town roots. She now lives in St. Francisville with her husband of three years and their 2-year-old son.

“I watched my parents grow from the roots they developed in a small town like Plaquemine,” she said. “I want to raise my children with those same morals and value – simple, not rich, yet beautiful.”

Renew and Heal Wellness is located at 2834 South Sherwood Forest Boulevard, Suite D8, Baton Rouge. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit or call 225-257-9670.

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