Longtime barber retires; recalls early years
The last barber in Fairfield retired last month.
Ron Fischer sold his shop on North Second Street, just south of the Fairfield fire station in May so he and his wife, Sue, a hair stylist, could retire.
“I started in 1960,” said Ron. “My first location in Fairfield was uptown, just off the square. Later, I joined with Larry [Hall] until 1981, and in 1985, I bought the building by the fire station.
“I’ve been thinking about retiring for awhile,” he said.
Ron is a Fairfield native.
When he graduated high school, Ron went to Davenport to attend barbering school.
“I was in a class with 29 other men, ages 18 to 40,” he said. “I remember going to lunch in the neighborhood and getting an egg sandwich for 20 cents, with everything on it.”
He also worked part time as a waiter while in school.
The barber school gave haircuts to men and “prices were 20, 35 and 45 cents, depending on the level of student cutting hair,” Ron said.
He studied hair cutting, how to use clippers, shaving techniques and learned facial anatomy along with business ethics.
“We got a lot of walk-in customers and I remember we had to keep the hair tonics locked up because the winos would try to come in and drink it.”
He completed school in July 1960 and the first job he found was at Conklin’s Barbershop in Richland.
“I was trying to get away from Fairfield, but that’s the job I found when I needed work,” he said. “I didn’t stay there long. We had to do 18 months of apprenticeship with a barber after graduation. I moved to work at Parcells Barbershop on West Broadway here in Fairfield.”
By 1968 Ron had his own shop.
“I enjoyed running my own business,” he said. “I had Russ Vorhies and Rita Childs working for me. She was the first woman barber in Fairfield as far as I know.”
He lost the building lease in 1977 and joined with barber Larry Hall, who just retired in December.
“I stayed at Larry’s until 1981, then opened the shop on North Second Street,” he said. “I bought the building in 1985.”
Sue is from Keosauqua. She attended beauty school, graduating in 1984 and began working with Ron in 1985.
“The building used to be a small café,” said Ron. “It was nice to be working together.”
Business in the 1960s thrived on farmers coming to town for haircuts, plus many Parsons College students, industry workers and local businessmen.
“Parsons had about 5,000 students in the 1960s and boys and men always went to barbers back then. Fairfield had 17 barbers in town. We’re getting rarer as the years go on.”
Ron said there are no barbers left in Van Buren or Henry counties.
“Ottumwa has a few barbers left, all old, like me,” he said.
“I had a variety of clients over the years from all walks of life, and all ages,” said Ron. “I always said I didn’t have to please the customer in the chair; I had to please the girl friend, the wife or mother.
“We sure had a lot of wacky college kids from all over the country during the Parsons years,” Ron said. “Then the college closed and we went into an economic plunge. In the 1980s the meditators starting moving here, and in the ’90s the barbering business was good.”
He remembers one challenge when a young boy he described as having overgrown curly hair came in for a haircut.
“I started cutting and began finding cockleburs in his hair,” he said. “That was quite a surprise. I had to do a lot more cutting than planned.”
While tending to the hair of the community, Ron and Sue raised two boys and a daughter. Their oldest son died in a car accident about 25 years ago, Sue said. Their daughter, Jody Kessel, is assistant Fairfield Parks and Recreation director.
“All of our kids grew up playing music, and we play music,” said Sue. “Each of them played the piano very well.”
Retirement plans include some traveling and continuing to play music.
“We go to area nursing homes and the senior center and play,” said Ron.
They play under the name Country Round Up, and Ron plays guitar and Sue plays bass guitar, each by ear.
“We like going to garage sales and auctions,” said Ron.
“And studying genealogy, visiting cemeteries and visiting the casino,” said Sue.
“We’re each collectors,” said Ron. “We had our collections displayed in the shop. Now, we have them in our basement. I collect cowboys and Sue collects Coca-Cola items.”