TERRE HAUTE —
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week. Still smiling. Still bleeding Blue and White as a lifelong Sycamores fan. Still reviewing sports, politics, news and the word on the street as he “sharpens up” the guy sitting in the barber’s chair at Esquire Hairstyling. Still energized and busy.
A haircut “should take about 20 minutes. With me, it lasts a little longer,” Hochhalter said. “I like to talk a lot. I enjoy my customers.”
When another downtown barbershop laid off Hochhalter and others, he and Thomas decided to open their own place at 30 N. Sixth St., between Wabash Avenue and Indiana State University, and the duo canvassed the campus to drum up customers. When a massive fire destroyed a dozen stores and five businesses on the adjacent block on March 20, 1963, Hochhalter and Thomas forged ahead and opened their shop just a few days later. No second thoughts. “Oh, no,” said Hochhalter, who was just 22 years old then. “We were rarin’ to go.”
When Interstate 70 opened in 1967, shifting the hub of city commerce to the south side, they kept at it, downtown.
When men began wearing longer hair in the 1970s, prompting many barbers to quit, Hochhalter and Thomas got more training for those new styles. “Longer hair never hurt us,” Hochhalter said.
When Thomas left the profession in 1982 for a full-time career in county government, Hochhalter continued on.
At one time, four barbers manned the shop. Customers “lined up to get in here,” Hochhalter recalled. Nearly 150 barbers filled the ranks of the local barbers union, including 100 in the downtown district, he said. They met monthly, kept similar prices and took Thursdays off. “Downtown was booming,” Hochhalter said.
For the past two decades, he’s worked on his own, by appointment. The industry has changed through the popularity of unisex salons, reducing the number of traditional barbershops catering to the guys. “It’s just a lost art,” Hochhalter said. “There are hardly any barbers around any more.”
His appointment book stays full, though. Through the years, his clientele has included politicians, business leaders, people working downtown, sons whose dads were also customers, and local college administrators, professors, students, coaches and athletes, among others. In one stretch, three of his regular customers were future billionaires. Hochhalter cut the hair of future Dodgers and Yankees pitching star Tommy John, then a high-schooler. “He wore a flat-top back in those days,” Hochhalter said. Five of the past six ISU presidents — including current president Dan Bradley — have sat in Hochhalter’s chair, dating back to Raleigh Holmstedt.
“Raleigh used to come in here, smoking his pipe and joking around,” Hochhalter recalled. A barber on the shop’s staff was once carrying on and making wisecracks about ISU and didn’t realize the guy in the chair was Holmstedt. Hochhalter just laughed at the memory.
Today, Hochhalter has regulars as old as 95, still dropping by for a weekly trim. He’s heard, and shared, lots of stories. “I wish I could remember everything I’ve known,” he said, chuckling.
Last Wednesday, with jazz music quietly emanating from a speaker on the wall, autographed sports memorabilia covering another wall, and bits of March sunlight flickering through the shop window, customer Rich Kjonaas leafed through a magazine, awaiting his turn. Kjonaas was a regular back in the 1980s and resumed that routine about four years ago. “I come here as much for the advice as the haircut,” he said, drawing a grin from his barber. A few minutes earlier, Hochhalter wrapped up Brian Conley’s haircut by running a massage machine across his neck. Conley, a real estate executive, started coming to the shop in 1976.
Hochhalter, who took his first barbering job 54 years ago, hopes to be handling their appointments for years to come.
“I feel like I’ve got another 54 years to go,” he said. “I know that won’t happen, but I feel like I could.”
He’s one of those special people who discovered his life’s ambition early and lived it out. Growing up in Montezuma, Hochhalter’s dad took him to barbershops in nearby Clinton for weekly haircuts. “I just watched the barbers and saw they had a good time,” he said. “I was about 14 or 15 years old, and I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
He’s 72 now. His career, along side that of his wife, Alyce — a retired Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College prof — helped raise their son and daughter. Today, he barbers because he likes the work, not because he must. Though old-school barbershops have experienced a nostalgic resurgence in some trendy locales in large cities, such as the Art of Shaving at Keystone Crossing near Indianapolis, Hochhalter figures he represents the last of traditional barbering’s heyday era.
Customers keep walking into his shop near the corner of Sixth and Cherry streets, though. And, he’ll keep sharpening them up “till my legs give out.”
The work still makes him smile, and still holds its place among his passions, behind his family and sports. Throughout his family life, he’s been surrounded by college graduates. Hochhalter took a slightly different path, doing his schooling at Indiana Barbers College, and he’s glad he did.
“It’s just me. I chose to be a barber, and I’m as happy as can be,” he said. “There’s not many people as happy as me.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
- News Columns
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
Chamber: Repeal ‘smoker’s bill of rights’
When Indiana lawmakers return for the 2014 session in early January, they’ll step into the highly charged issue of marriage equality as they debate the proposed amendment that would lock into the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
Citizens fight for school funds
Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Pence eyes reducing infant mortality as key legislative goal for administration
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the state’s Infant Mortality Summit last week by sharing a personal story: He and his wife had struggled with infertility issues early in their marriage, so the eventual arrival of their three children was met with deep gratitude and appreciation.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MAX JONES: Fight for public access among Dave Cox’s legacies
A group of Indiana newspaper editors who advise the Hoosier State Press Association on issues related to access to public records and meetings had the opportunity to meet new Public Access Counselor Luke Britt last week.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
America, falling behind global peers
As Congress was descending further into dysfunction last week, this discouraging piece of news emerged: Despite how we Americans insist that we’re the best and brightest people on the globe, we’re not.
MAX JONES: Ernie Pyle’s IU legacy should be preserved
As an alum of Indiana University-Bloomington, where I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism many moons ago, I’ve been watching with keen interest the ongoing discussion about merging the School of Journalism with other areas of communications, such as PR and filmmaking, inside the College of Arts & Sciences.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge
It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
B.J. RILEY: Special Progress sections spotlight growth in Wabash Valley
Inserted in your Tribune-Star today is our annual Progress edition, “Community Update 2013.” This is the fifth year we have put together this type of publication, an effort months in the making.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
Debate: Investing in early-childhood education
Should Indiana children wait until they are 7 years old before they step into a classroom?
Health care costs Hoosiers either way
In the war over the Affordable Care Act, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence won a policy victory when the Obama administration gave him a temporary pass to continue with the Healthy Indiana Plan, a high-deductible health insurance program that covers only 37,000 low-income Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
Same-sex marriage ban tests ‘Hoosier hospitality’
In a recent column I wrote when I visited Washington, D.C., as the city was preparing to host the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I asked the questions: “Will we see diversity as a threat to our seemingly secure world? Or will we embrace it as a strength?”
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
Anniversary of March cause for introspection
Many years ago, when I was a high school senior visiting college campuses, I met with an adviser at Indiana University whose job included recruiting new students to campus.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
- More News Columns Headlines
- MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’