Shear success: Meet the St. Charles barbershop owner still cutting hair at 82
Herb Knight held his walker tightly as he slowly made his way out of a busy Avenue Two Barbershop in downtown St. Charles on a recent Friday morning.
"This is a real, unique place," Knight said through a wide smile. "Just look around here, this is really St. Charles."
The 95-year-old Knight, a customer for 36 years, had good reason to smile. He looked quite dapper after just getting a haircut from barber Jeff Orland, the 82-year-old owner of Avenue Two at 204 E. Main St.
Orland opened the shop in 1969 and has since worked with many longtime workers who make it stand out as a barbershop from yesteryear.
Orland has spent 63 years -- 54 of them at Avenue Two -- hovering over a barber's chair, making thousands of customers look much better when leaving his shop. That longevity has moved him into a stratosphere that some, but not all, barbers have traveled in, working multiple decades at their craft.
Most satisfying for Orland is the lion's share of his career has been in his hometown of St. Charles. He firmly believes the best way to build a business as a barber is to return to your hometown to operate a shop. And he did it fairly quickly.
Orland and his future wife, Lori, graduated in 1959 from St. Charles High School, near his DeBruyne Street home in the city's west-side Belgium Town.
His parents both worked at the Moline Malleable Iron Company factory off Dean Street, and his mother didn't like the notion of their son also becoming a factory worker, a job he did the summer after graduation.
"My mom kept telling me to take up a trade, and, to me, that meant an electrician or a plumber," Orland said. "And the other elephant in the room was the military option, and I was thinking of maybe joining the Navy and spending some years in their programs."
Instead, a Saturday night of hanging out with Lori changed everything. "I went to her house, and her dad, Clarence Endler, was talking to one of his neighbors who happened to be a barber. That fellow suggested to me to go to barber school."
Liking that idea, he borrowed his dad's car a week later and drove down to Weeden's Barber School on Madison Street near the old Chicago Stadium. He signed up and began his training in November of 1959.
Orland began his career at Foltos Tonsorial in Batavia in August of 1960 before returning to St. Charles three years later to become a barber at a shop inside Hotel Baker.
"My trade was built there," Orland said of the hotel experience. "I was cutting hair of the guys I played softball with or former classmates and coaches at the high school. It was really a good move for me."
When men began letting their hair grow longer in the late 1960s, Orland followed that trend, changing his cutting style and seeking to please his customers.
Orland said another barber tended to "make fun" of the kids with longer hair, which wasn't the best for business, but he wasn't long for the hotel chair anyway. He already had plans in place to open Avenue Two with another partner. In December of 1969, he opened the shop.
Over that time, he's cut the hair of mayors, city officials, teachers and public servants, as well as the common man and untold numbers who have lived in St. Charles many years -- as well as their kids and grandkids.
"There is one guy I should mention," Orland said of his customer base. "Dave Hunecke has been my customer the longest, the whole 63 years."
Orland has done much of this work with a barber's "tool kit" box he bought for $110 in 1959.
"I still have it here in the shop," Orland said of the box. "I used to strap it on the back of my motorcycle and ride to work every day."
The staff at Avenue Two is unique in that each barber grew up at the Mooseheart campus and school for orphans, a hiring pattern set up by an early partner and one Orland bought into.
Barbers and their time at the shop include Frank Pavlek, 51 years; Timo Jayne, 43 years; Scott Guetthoff, 36 years; Brian Shaunnessy, 46 years; and Mick Davenport, who retired after 40 years. In addition, Pat Shaunnessy worked part-time for about 10 years at the shop and went to the University of Illinois to earn a CPA in accounting.
One of Orland's fondest recollections is when his son Keith would ride his bike to the shop during his early school years to sweep floors, load the pop machine and take on other tasks. Keith and his wife, Peggy, live in St. Charles, while son Steve Orland and his wife, Kathleen, live in Minnesota, where Orland's only grandson Adam is a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Orland's daughter Kelly and her husband, Eric Leafblad, are still in the area, working as state's attorney prosecutors.
"Being a barber calls for a mix of talking and listening (to customers)," said Orland, who works only half-days on Thursday and Friday mornings.
"I'm not sure how long I will keep doing it," he said. "I'm a little slow, but still feel good, and my doctor tells me to keep working because it is good for me.
"This is a special, special place, not just because it is mine, but because of the people and the things that have happened to connect us all together."
The shop's waiting area features a chess board, a table stacked with newspapers, a place for coffee and snacks, and various other plaques, mementos and tributes to the shop on display. A sign informs walk-ins to check in with "Give us a hey!"
So here you go. Hey, this place is an incredible slice of what makes small towns click, and we're glad Jeff Orland decided to go to barber school in 1959.
A patriotic celebration
Things are moving along nicely for the Fox Valley Patriotic Organization and its effort to dedicate a Flag Day monument in Batavia to honor Dr. Bernard Cigrand, a Batavia resident credited with founding Flag Day, celebrated every June 14.
The organization will host a fundraising dinner and evening of music on Saturday, Sept. 30, to give residents a first look at the monument, which will have its official dedication along the Batavia Riverwalk from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1.
The monument also honors those who have fought for the flag and keep our nation safe at home and abroad -- Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from Illinois, active military, veterans, and first responders.
Ticket information for the fundraiser is available at flagdaymonument.com/events.
The monument dedication, hosted by the FVPO and the Batavia Flag Day Committee, will also feature music, food trucks and the opportunity for visitors to leave messages or photos for future generations encased in 50- and 100-year time capsules in the wall of the monument.
Lots of knitting going on
This information can best be described as "knitters are going to knit."
The Fox Valley Knitters' Guild is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a member show from Sept. 5 to Oct. 28 at the St. Charles Public Library to display 39 works crafted by 20 guild members.
The anniversary display highlights what knitting and fiber arts are all about, showcasing a variety of garments and other three-dimensional objects, including home decor and sculptural items.
The guild meets the second Wednesday of each month from September through May at the Baker Community Center in St. Charles. That provides plenty of opportunities for knitting and discussing the art. Or does it?
Guild spokesperson Andrea Brown says, "meeting once a month isn't enough for a core group of guild members."
For years, these particular knitters have also met weekly on Wednesday mornings at the Arcedium Coffeehouse in St. Charles "to share their passion for fiber arts," Brown noted.
It's hard to say if knitting is contagious, but apparently, what Brown describes as an "offshoot" group of guild members has also established a separate meeting time on Saturday mornings at the Wheaton Public Library.
That's a lot of knitting for a guild that now has more than 100 members stressing high-quality design and technique. And it pays off. Members have devoted much time to charity, knitting hats, scarves, mittens, shawls and blankets for the elderly, homeless and underserved youth. Other projects have benefited breast cancer survivors, chemotherapy patients and people with dementia.More information is available at fvkg.com.
Scare up some volunteers
The St. Charles Business Alliance makes a pretty good argument about something related to the annual Scarecrow fest, now called St. Charles Scarecrow Weekend. Volunteers have made This festival a big hit throughout downtown for the past 37 years.
It's a good pitch when you want to get the word out that volunteers are needed for this year's event to be held Oct. 6-8.
Volunteers are needed for information booths in Lincoln Park and the St. Charles Municipal Building or monitoring the Activity Zone on Riverside Avenue.
And how can you pass this up? All volunteers receive a "Boo Crew" T-shirt. Check out scarecrowfest.com to learn more about volunteering.