Cuts & Cut-upsFebruary 3, 2018
Story by Olivia Ingle
Photos by Jacob Wiegand
Nearly 10 years ago, Greg Kendall was given a grim diagnosis.
Doctors told him he had six months to live after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis — a scarring of the lungs that affects a person’s ability to breathe.
“When you get a diagnosis like that, it pretty well opens your eyes up to a lot of things that maybe you never looked at before,” the 67-year-old Jasper man says. “You start realizing how short life can be.”
Greg realized he didn’t have a lot of time to check things off his bucket list. So, the very next day, he booked a trip to Alaska, a place he had always wanted to go.
He also prayed. Father Lambert Riley visited him and the duo prayed and prayed and prayed.
Then when Greg saw doctors in Tennessee about taking experimental drugs for the disease, he received even more life-changing news.
The disease had gone dormant.
“I pretty much attribute my life today to Father Lambert Riley,” Greg says. “It’s kind of a miracle that I’m even here ... But I’ve been blessed. And apparently God’s got a few things left for me before I disappear.
“I’ve been lucky,” he added.
He cherishes every day and says he doesn’t have room for anything negative in his life. His work as a master barber certainly isn’t one of those negatives.
Greg says he’s one of those lucky guys who’s never had a job, which may seem odd since he’s owned Greg’s Barber Shop on East 12th Street in Jasper for 47 years.
“I’m the only guy in town who comes in and laughs all day,” he says.
Greg’s tagline across his shop window reads: “Cuttin’ it up since 1971.” He has customers who have been with him all those years. Newer ones, too. And he jokes and banters with them all.
“Every customer that comes in, you have a story. Never a dull moment,” Greg says. “We guys have a special way of picking on one another.”
One Friday in early January, it was a steady stream of customers from 2 p.m. (the time Greg reopens after lunch), until shortly before 5, when he hangs up his scissors for the day.
The first guy to take the hot seat? Dr. Marc Campbell, who walks in with his stethoscope still draped around his neck. Greg calls him Doc.
The barber recalls an ongoing joke he and Doc share involving a colonoscopy. Before Doc leaves, he shows Greg and fellow customers an old photo on his phone of his father standing beside a pile of snow much taller than him.
Greg’s interaction with Doc mimics the relationship the barber has with many of his customers. They joke, talk about their lives — good things and bad — and share some things they may not share with the average Joe.
That same day in January, another customer shares with Greg that his mom died that morning. The mood turns somber.
“When you’re a shop owner, you’re there for your customers,” Greg says.
He wants his shop to be an oasis. And many of his customers will tell you that it is.
Gil Eckerle got his hair cut that day, too, and starts with the jokes before Greg can get any sort of jab at him.
“What does your (barber) license read? Do you even have one?” Gil asks.
When Greg told Gil he was being interviewed for a Herald Saturday feature: “I’ll line my birdcage with it.”
Another from Gil: “He hasn’t started on politics has he?”
Guys continue to walk into Greg’s shop (each cut takes 10 minutes or so), and at one point, every chair in the room is full. Conversation bounces from one topic to another, most definitely censored with a lady reporter in the room.
You hear a lot of things in Greg’s Barber Shop, a lot from Greg that doesn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason — like how his granddaughter gave him bacon pajama pants for Christmas or that his celebrity crush is Shania Twain.
“Greg is one of those guys you talk to straight from the hip,” Gil says.
“You might not like my answer,” Greg adds. “But I’ll tell you the truth.”
The younger customers are especially fond of him and the popsicles, bubble gum and M&M’s that have become the barber’s secret weapons.
Greg says one customer came in once with her 4-year-old son who was throwing a fit and didn’t want his hair cut. So, the barber pulled out a bag of M&M’s.
“She said, ‘Oh, I don’t give my kids candy.’” Greg says. “I said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t make the rules here.’”
From then on, the boy and Greg have been like best friends, and the mom recalls the story every time she’s in the shop.
“He never cried again about getting a haircut,” Greg says, laughing. “He just came in here like a champ after that.”
Greg never really planned on getting into his profession. He had wanted to go into military service after graduating from Huntingburg High School (he’s a son of the late Russell and Doris Kendall) in 1968, but couldn’t because of leg problems. So, his dad encouraged him to become a barber.
He remembers his first day at the shop, really his first day as a master barber. It was Feb. 5, 1971. A Friday. He recalls giving several haircuts that day. Saturday, quite a few. Monday, several. Tuesday, a few.
“Wednesday came and I just sat here,” he says. “Not one.”
Fortunately, that hasn’t happened since.
Times were different back then. A haircut was $3. Now, Greg jokes his “haircuts are free, but BS costs you 15 bucks.”
There were also nearly 15 barbers in Jasper in 1971. Now, there are fewer than five.
The ’70s were tough for barbers, Greg says, because when “the Beatles hit in the ’60s, they brought the long hair craze with them and it continued into the ’70s.”
“When I started, people just didn’t get haircuts much,” he adds. “If it wasn’t for my wife, we would have starved to death. Thank God we could live on love for a while.”
Greg and his late wife, Marilyn, married in November 1971 and eventually had two children, Kyle and Kirk. Kyle, 40, lives in Jasper with his wife, Renae, and 12-year-old daughter, Teagan. Kirk, 30, lives in Newburgh.
Throughout the ’70s, Greg continued to promote his name and barbershop and business picked up.
By the time he reached his early 30s, he was looking to serve his community more, so he ran for a seat on the Dubois County Council. The 34-year-old joined the council in 1984 and was part of it for 32 years, the last 12 of which he was council president. He retired from the council in 2016.
“In 32 years on council, I missed five meetings; three I was in the hospital,” he says. “They elected me to do a job and I was gonna be there.”
One project the council worked on during his tenure that sticks out in his mind is when the county built the present-day security center. He says it was stressful because the council had to raise taxes for the project.
“We had to put on the county option income tax and the EDIT tax so that we could pay for that jail, so that we didn’t have to put it on property tax,” Greg says. “Those kind of things, regardless of how smart you think you are or how good a job you think you’re doing, there’s still always somebody who’s going to be really negative about what you’re doing. It’s those kind of things that you always remember.”
He cherishes the people he met as a councilman — county residents and his council peers — the most.
“And I got along with every one of them,” he says. “Now, in those positions, you got to learn to bend a bit. If it’s for the betterment of the county, you’ve got to bend.”
While he knew when to be serious, he says he also brought some fun to the council, just like he does in his barber shop.
“If you talk to Jerry Hunefeld, he’ll say I brought a different light to the council,” Greg says of the council’s current president. “I would always say something to keep everybody loose.
“It’s a job, but let’s have fun with it, too.”
As council president, Greg learned to listen. A lot.
“I wasn’t a president who tried to take over everything,” he says. “I always encouraged everybody to voice their opinion. It’s what I’m most proud of.”
Marilyn was Greg’s biggest cheerleader.
“She enjoyed my life with politics...” Greg says. “She liked it. And she liked going with me to places and doing things that politicians do.”
Marilyn — who was the attendance secretary at Jasper High School — was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2001 and died in October 2003.
“What a special treat that lady was for me,” Greg says. “God takes your angel sometimes and takes them away from you. But that’s the way he operates. He’s the guy in charge.”
Family remains paramount in Greg’s life.
When he retired from the county council last year, he also cut his workweek at the barbershop from five days to four.
With Mondays and Tuesdays off, he was able to hit the golf course with his sons this past summer a lot more than in previous years and has had more time to spend with his fiancee, Judy Brosmer of Jasper.
He admits life is a lot of fun for him these days. He calls the last year — a year without political stress and pressure — “a year of total relaxation.”
He’s gone camping, hunting and fishing; he went ice fishing four times during our recent winter spell. Proof that he’s an outdoorsman are the 8-pound bass, turkey and 11-point buck that hang on his barbershop wall, as well as the numerous animals displayed in his man cave at his Jasper home.
He just hopes his outlook on life can rub off on the people he encounters daily, especially those who come into his shop.
“I hope people can take a little stress off, shoot the bull, have a little fun,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to make people happy.”
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