Local barber marks 40th year of service
66 years and ‘Still cuttin up’
This past spring marked the 40th year anniversary of LeRoy’s Hair Care serving the Merrill community.
But as owner LeRoy Fischer explains, the roots of his passion for the barbering profession spans even a few more years…66 years to be exact; to the summer of 1954.
“I was 12-years old and working at a mobil station over in the ward, (now the site of Westside Service)” he recollects.
“The owner, Leonard Bergh, was a good friend of my dad’s who had lost his leg in the war. He needed some help around the shop, so my dad sent me over to lend a hand. My main job was pumping gas and washing windows. Back in those days you didn’t just pump someone’s gas and send ‘em on their way, washing their windows was part of the deal. I was a bit small for my age so I had to stand on cases of pop to reach the windows,”
As he further explains, the Sixth Ward Barber Shop was located beside the station and the barbers would come into the station on a regular basis for coffee. Unbeknownst to LeRoy at the time, it was one particular visit from the barber shop owner Bill Jankowski, which would open the door to LeRoy’s barbering career, that would span the next six decades.
“Bill owned the shop and had a few other barbers working for him, he and ‘Schmidty’ (Lawrence Schmidt) would stop in for coffee quite a bit. Well, I must have been helping out there for about three or four weeks when Bill joked one morning ‘Are ya gonna be a grease monkey your whole life or come over and get a real job?’ The idea caught my eye ya know, so we talked. He talked me into helping him out with cutting hair of older guys in the ward who weren’t able to leave their homes.”
The summer of ‘54 would prove to be quite busy for young LeRoy, as word quickly spread of his knack for cutting hair.
“It wasn’t too long before I was called on by other barbers on the west-side asking if I could help out some of their guys who were home-bound. Then once I started cutting more hair, I had guys asking if I could cut their grass too. It got to a point where I was going from house-to-house with the barber kit Bill gave me in the basket of my bicycle, and then pulling along a Handy Andy Rotary rotary grass cutter.”
Headed into his teen-years, demand for Fischer’s barbering skills remained steadfast, as well as requests for odds and ends jobs such as raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter and eventually a part-time job at the local pea cannery when LeRoy was in high school.
“I never imagined it would go that far, I liked cutting hair and helping folks out. I guess…the more I did it, the better I got at it.”
It wasn’t until one day while a high school senior and talking with his father Andy, that LeRoy considered a career in barbering.
“We’re talking one day and he says to me; ‘You should really stick with cutting hair. As much hair as you’ve cut, you’re pretty darn good at it.
“It wasn’t too long after that, that I remember hearing a couple of the guys talking one day at the shop about me. They were talking about me, about to graduate high school and saying I ought to stick around the shop. It made a guy feel good to hear stuff like that ya know, so I decided to stick with it. So, I looked around about getting into barber school.”
Unfortunately, about the time LeRoy was about to graduate high school, the draft for the Vietnam War left enrollment availability for many post-secondary programs few and far between.
“Guys were signing up for everything they could find, to avoid getting drafted. So I didn’t have much luck with that”
LeRoy graduated Merrill High School in 1961 and was drafted into the armed forces the following February, as a U.S Army Radio Repairman.
While his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was radio repair, barbering remained his favorite past-time and side-job.
“Kinda like when I was a kid, it started with me cutting a few guys’ hair and next thing I know I have other guys and their buddies wanting me to cut their hair. As time went on, I started cutting hair for officers.”
After three-years of service in the military, LeRoy returned home to Merrill in 1965 and picked up where he left off. While working with Norm Raasch at Ideal Hair Barbershop-located at the present-day Banker’s Square, between the Merrill Foto News offices and Merrill Community Bank- LeRoy attended the former vocational school on the city’s west-side; graduating with his barber license in 1968.
15 years later, on January 2, 1980; LeRoy Fischer ventured out to establish his own shop, at its present-day location of 724 E. Second Street.
When asked of a particular memory that comes to mind over the last 66 years, LeRoy quickly recollects a particularly cold January day in the early 1980’s.
“There was a guy from Texas who would pass through town every now and then. He broke horses for a living. I don’t think we ever discussed what brought him up this way, but anyway, I remember it was colder than heck that afternoon when I got a call from one of our local officers; Chuck Batchelder,” LeRoy explains.
“Chuck said he was with a guy from Texas, up around Irma. He said the guy’s car froze up, but he wanted a haircut from me. I couldn’t help but smile as I knew the fella well. He drove a huge Cadillac and was always dressed well. So I said ok, my car won’t start either, can I get a ride to the shop?”
“I’ll be darned if Chuck didn’t give the guy a ride to my shop and then came to pick me up! I cut the fella’s hair while his car thawed out at a local shop. A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail with a card. It was from the Texas fella, he thanked me for the haircut but mentioned he forgot to leave me something extra for his haircut. So inside that card was a $100 bill! He asked for me to keep $50 and give Chuck the other $50…that was something, I tell ya,” he adds with a chuckle.
When asked of what the future holds, LeRoy cracks yet another grin.
“I have plenty more hair to cut. It’s really the customers and the people I’ve met over the years that keep me busy and coming back to the shop every day with my partner Allen Klade. That’s the one thing I can say that has never changed over the years; how much fun I have with my customers. And when the day comes… when I don’t have fun anymore, that will be the day I retire. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”