Oskaloosa.com

Local News

January 31, 2011

Barber retires after more than half century

FREMONT — Take one step inside Bill’s Barber Shop and you’ll be surrounded by history.

Nearly every inch of the walls is covered with Ceder and Fremont memorabilia of all kinds. Several shelves also hold keepsakes from the past.

“I’ve got my great-grandfather’s shaving mug,” said shop owner Bill Ward. “He was in the Civil War and was captured and put in Andersonville Prison.”

At just after 4 p.m. Saturday, Ward, 72, laid down his clippers for good after performing his final haircut on Rex Hedge, 92, with several family members looking on. Hedge was Ward’s first customer when he opened up shop in Fremont in February of 1962.

The first time Ward cut Hedge’s hair, it only cost $1, which was the going rate at the time. Although Ward would regularly charge customers $8 for a cut today, he charged Hedge a single dollar Saturday.

By his junior year at Cedar High School, Ward already knew he wanted to dedicate his life to working as a barber.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a farmer,” said Ward, who was born on a farm south of Cedar. “My dad told me many, many times he was glad I went into barbering because he said he didn’t know anyone who did their job as well as I do.”

Ward barbered in Des Moines for three and a half years before opening his shop in Fremont.

Ward learned his trade at the Barbers College in Des Moines. At that time, a barber’s training lasted six months and included putting in time as an apprentice for two years. Today, a barber’s training lasts upwards of 13 months, Ward noted.

While working in Des Moines, Ward received word from two local men about opening up a shop in Fremont. He spent the first 10 years in Fremont working out of a space next door to his shop’s current location, which used to be owned by a telephone company. This move allowed Ward much more room to practice his craft.

“It’s three times bigger or more,” said Ward of his shop’s current location.

In his years as a barber, Ward said he loved the personal interaction with his customers and the laid-back atmosphere of his shop.

“It’s stress free,” said Ward.

Ward’s customers were almost all regulars with very few strangers coming in for a cut. He said most of his 600 or so regular customers were middle-aged and older.

Just because Ward is no longer cutting hair professionally doesn’t mean his shop is going anywhere. Ward’s cousin, Rob Riley, 42, will officially take ownership of the building and business Feb. 1.

Riley earned his credentials at the American College of Hairstyling in Des Moines and said he’s ready to take over the historic business.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Riley said after watching Ward perform his last haircut. “I’m not as fast as Bill is quite yet. But, I’m going to work on that. I hope I can do a good job and live up to his standards.”

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Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com

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