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The campus barbershop: a cut above

By Tori Tragis, University Relations
July 2006

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Black and white add with no pictures. For the North Pole Barbershop.
Published in a 1932 edition of the University of Alaska newspaper The Farthest-North Collegian, this ad promoted the first barbershop on the Fairbanks campus.

Zoom A busy barbershop with a man sitting in the forground with a person taking a picture visible in the mirrors.a
Known for his practical jokes, Steve Ludwig was a barber at UAF for some 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of the challenges presented by the wall of mirrors, photo students often use the barbershop for photo shoots.

Zoom A black and white photograph of a professor having his hair cut by Charlette Lushin.
Lushin still cuts the hair of math Professor Joe Dart, which has grayed somewhat since this photo was taken in the mid '80s.

Zoom A color picture of two men at the barbershop and a woman cutting hair.
Floyd (last name unknown) shares a joke with a fellow barber and a customer in this undated photo from the late '60s or early '70s. Note that smoking was common in public buildings at the time.

If barbers today think they have it tough, what with the plethora of celebrity magazines driving a constant demand for the newest Hollywood trend, they should consider the woolly clients Percy Lucha entertained in the 1930s.

Fortunately for barber Charlette Lushin, times have changed. Among the many attractions of the Fairbanks campus is a basic but important service: the campus barbershop. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about UAF, but it's important enough to occur to the nearly 200 people a week who troop into Lushin's shop in Constitution Hall for a trim.

Next year Lushin will mark 25 years as UAF's "doyenne of 'dos."

Next year Lushin will mark 25 years as UAF's "doyenne of 'dos." She's now been here long enough to have cut the hair of three generations of students and their families.

"A lot of these kids come in in elementary school with their parents. I've seen them go to school here, I've seen them graduate. Now I get their babies," Lushin says.

That variety is part of what keeps Bill Stringer coming back. After retiring as a professor emeritus from the Geophysical Institute nearly a decade ago, he still gets his hair cut regularly at the Campus Barbershop. He's been a customer since he arrived in Fairbanks as a student in 1962. Stringer notes that a few things have changed since then. For one, the shop used to be on a lower floor in Constitution Hall; that space is now used for utilities and maintenance. The stylists have also changed over the years. He laughs when talking about Steve Ludwig, Lushin's retired partner and a teller of tall tales whom Stringer laughingly refers to as a "turkey."

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Charlette Lushin is giving Chancellor Steve Jones a haircut.
Chancellor Steve Jones is one of many UAF employees who frequent Charlette Lushin's shop.

But one thing about the barbershop remains the same, says Stringer. "It was always kind of a window. Going to the barbershop, you get an idea of what's going on. You overhear interesting conversations. Over the years I've seen kids get their first haircuts there. I wouldn't miss it for anything. It's truly a campus institution."

Lushin cuts the hair of alumni and former employees like Stringer, and sees a broad cross-section of campus staff, faculty and visitors, but students still make up most of her clients. She clearly enjoys talking with them and observing their evolving personalities as they mature during their university years.

"It's very interesting to watch them grow up into young men and women," she says. "When they first start out they're generally fairly quiet, fairly shy, and by the time they're ready to leave here you can see their maturity."

Since students know that what is said between snips never leaves the room, some take advantage of the time to vent or ask for advice on everything from dating woes and family conflicts to balancing academics with the siren call of a social life. Lushin thinks that for some students, she occupies a middle ground between a peer and an authority figure like, which gives them a chance to let their guard down and open up. "A student might say, 'I liked your last appointment. I need to talk to you.' They know whatever is on their minds, it's not going to go anywhere."

"It's very interesting to watch them grow up into young men and women."

Business is steady throughout the year, with peaks at the beginning of each semester and before the winter holidays, and another wave before the spring rush of job interviews and awards banquets. Haircuts at the campus barbershop are quite affordable compared to the cost at shops off-campus, which is a big plus to students on a tight budget. Lushin says it's up to the customer to suggest a particular style, not her.

"My clients come to me with a plan or style for their hair. That way they get exactly what they want," she says. "I don't have an unhappy customer. I make sure of it."

That is, after all, the ultimate goal of the barbershop--as the "Collegian" ad said, to get de-whiskered and de-haired. Bill Stringer notes that, while he may like the swirl of conversation at the shop, he knows what's most important.

"I've always gotten a haircut that my wife likes."

 

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If you can identify any of the unknown individuals pictured above, please contact Tori Tragis, writer, University Relations, (907) 474-6438, tori.tragis@uaf.edu.