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HOBART — John Pfeifer has had his hands in just about every man's head of hair here in the past 60 years.

Pfeifer, 83, is a barber.

He's spent most of his 60 years working in shops in Hobart, including his own, John's Barber Shop on Third Street, for 36 years. He also spent time in shops in Lansing and Chesterton.

Today he spends three days a week and every other Saturday cutting hair, joking with customers and swapping stories at Lakeside Barber Shop on Third Street.

"It's a straight day job, no midnights, you're always off on Sundays and Monday and you don't work holidays," Pfeifer said about the appeal of the job.

But, he admits, it's more than that. It's the people, the generations he's grown to know, the friendships he's made and the camaraderie the job brings.

"I've gone to John off and on for 51 years," Larry Thyen said. "He had just opened up on Third Street. I was 15. There was three of us. We'd sit there for an hour, just cutting up and we'd have John in tears."

Pfeifer also cut Rich Hale's hair. The professional relationship turned into a friendship.

"I just started to come there and I'd bring my three sons. He had a good attitude, he always smiled and made it feel like home," said Hale, who now often golfs with Pfeifer or has breakfast at the local McDonald's.

Pfeifer said he fell into the business.

Born in Hammond and raised in St. John, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953. Serving two years, he wasn't sure what he was going to do. Before being drafted he had worked at the Ford Assembly Plant.

"I had an uncle who was a barber in St. John. He told me I should be a barber," recalled Pfeifer, adding he spent the next six months, riding the South Shore every day, to barber's school in Chicago.

When he graduated, he went to work for Lou's Barber Shop in Lansing and after obtaining his Indiana license, came to Hobart, where he worked most of his career.

"You have to have respect for the people and always try to greet the people with a smile on your face and a good attitude," said Pfeifer, a longtime Hobart resident who now lives in Valparaiso.

Listening also helps. Being a barber, he said, you listen to people talk about their lives or their problems.

"Sometime it goes in one ear and out the other," he chuckled.

When he started, flat tops were the rage. Then came the 1960s and Pfeifer went back to school to become a stylist. By the 1980s, shorter hair cuts were back in demand.

"At one time I would give 35 cuts a day and wouldn't get home until late at night," he said. How many heads of hair he's cut over the past 60 years is anyone's guess.

His favorite story was of the little boy who came in for his first hair cut and jumped out of the chair. The boy's mom corralled him and Pfeifer gave him the hair cut. He use to give out certificates to youngsters who came to him for their first cut.

Pfeifer also has given haircuts in hospitals and at homes as well as in Florida where he's wintered the past 16 years.

A Chicago Cubs fan since he was a child, Pfeifer also was active in community events and St. Bridget Church in Hobart.

He's not sure when he might retire.

"I'll retire when I die, when they carry me out of here feet first," he laughed, adding he may retire at the end of the year.


Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.