Monticello's Barber Bruce: Half-century of cutting hair

Monticello's Barber Bruce: Half-century of cutting hair

MONTICELLO — In the town where he grew up and had his first haircut, they call Bruce Jordan "Barber Bruce." His wife Linda says she's known as "Mrs. Barber Bruce."

Customer Jim Trent calls him "Hair Jordan."

As Jordan approaches birthday No. 72, his barbershop is the home of the child's chair on which he had his first haircut at 9 months. He bought the shop from the man who first cut his hair. And he has stayed on for a half-century.

"I've cut four generations of hair," he says, becoming a Piatt County fixture in the process.

"Barber Bruce tells my son stories about my husband when he was his age," says Callie Jo McFarland. "It's a generational thing."

The only tonsorial interruption was the two years he spent in the Army in Germany. Because Linda, his wife of 51 years, was staying with him part of the time, he got a meager housing allowance.

There's an old saying, "a busman's holiday," for people who do their jobs even while on time off. A barber's holiday is Jordan cutting hair in his spare time in Germany.

He charged his soldier colleagues 50 cents for a haircut.

"Otherwise, the Germans cut your hair," he says. "You'd tell them what you wanted, where to part your hair and they'd say 'Ja, Ja' and do it their own way."

Nowadays, Barber Bruce charges $10 for a haircut, $9 for 62 and over. Service members have always been free.

No over-specializer, Barber Bruce cuts the hair for a few ladies, one of whom is Jennie Maxwell of Champaign, formerly of Monticello.

After a hard day at the Kraft factory, she once told her husband, "for 2 cents, I'd go to a man's barber." He gave her 2 cents, and she has been coming back for close to 40 years.

"He always gets it right," she says. "After this long, I sit down and I just say, 'Bruce, do it.'"

Barber Bruce starts cutting Sam Hagon's hair. He has come in with Trent, his grandfather, all the way from Phoenix.

And he's getting a bargain. All that long hair comes off to help with a humid day in central Illinois.

Grandpa is sweeping the hair up; usually Barber Bruce's younger brother Tom does that, but he's been in the hospital.

Trent asks Sam if he'd like a sample of his locks. "It's gross," Sam answers from his perch.

The boy's chair is Barber Bruce's pride and joy, and not just because he plunked himself down in it for his own first haircut. All porcelain and chrome, the chair is more than 100 years old, owned by his predecessor Guy Burns.

The 1940 Census says Mr. Burns was born around 1899, and Barber Bruce said his mentor had the chair by 1919, and he wasn't the first to own the chair. It was made by the Koken company. Ernest Koken patented his hydraulic chair in the 1890s.

Barber Bruce also had some antique tools around. He still trims adult male ears with a straight razor, and has a collection of them at home. He has clippers from before they were electric.

"A barber had to have strong hands," he says.

"Bruce gives the best foot messages," wife Linda says. He smiles.

Just before she dropped by, he was telling the guys that she's his rock, that he couldn't do without her.

He tells the fellas how he met Linda when she was 12. When she was 14 and he was 16, he asked her out.

There's some chatter about robbing the cradle. "I like dark-haired girls," he says. Her hair is still jet black.

No children. "That's how come I got drafted," he says.

Barber Bruce says he's making the supreme sacrifice and taking off Thursday afternoons for the first time in his career. "That time is for Linda," he says. Put the kibosh on retirement talk — he may cut hair when he's 100.

Longtime lady customer Jennie Maxwell says, "You'll probably cut hair in the hospital."

The men come and go, but the conversation never flags. Fox News is changed to the Cartoon Network, then back again. How much is hay going for these days? What's the deal with the guy they traded with the Taliban for? Do they still make Baby Ruth bars?

There's not much politics, and as for the second-most dangerous topic, Barber Bruce won't let anyone dis the Cubs. Somebody once told him he was from Cardinal Country, and he set that guy straight in no uncertain terms.

One guy comes over from Argenta. Another's from Bondville.

Dino Papasimakis came from Greece, but he lives in Monticello now. He has brought in his grandchildren, and also gets his own thick white hair trimmed.

Konstantine Papasimakis, 2, patiently watches his curls fall away.

"He usually cries," says mom Helen. "This is wonderful."

Maybe it's the sucker that Barber Bruce gave him. When a few hairs gets on it, another sucker is ready to go.

"I've got 400 of them back there," Barber Bruce says.

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