SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Jack Kanady was in the chair at Steve Mihelsic's barber shop (Motto: "Haircuts for the mature man") when the phone rang. Jack overheard Steve make an appointment with Charlie Kuntzman. Charlie lives in Taylorville.
"That's a long way for someone to drive just to get a haircut," Jack commented. And Steve explained why Charlie makes the trip. It has to do with the Berlin Wall.
Back in 1961, the Russians were causing Cold War trouble in Berlin. It got so hairy that at one point U.S. Army tanks engaged in a staredown with Russian armor at a checkpoint between East and West Berlin.
As the crisis escalated, President Kennedy ordered a call-up of National Guard troops. That included a young Steve Mihelsic and some of his Illinois Army National Guard buddies in Springfield who were sent to Fort Knox, Ky.
Steve had graduated from barber college in 1955 and was cutting hair in Springfield. He kept cutting hair for his fellow soldiers at Fort Knox as they awaited orders to head to Germany. One of the men whose hair he cut then was Charlie Kuntzman. That's why Charlie still drives from Taylorville 52, actually closer to 52 1/2, years later.
But there's more.
Charlie is only one of six from the Fort Knox group who still have their hair cut by Steve. The others are Bob Wolf in Riverton, Garrett Johnson in Petersburg and Springfieldians Charlie Cappelin, Lester Hughes and Gaylen Lael.
"Me and Steve went to school together at Lanphier (High School)," says Bob Wolf. "He cut my hair at Fort Knox, then I just kept going to him after we got de-activated. I've followed him around like an old dog."
On the wall of the barbershop at North Grand and Walnut, Steve keeps a list of his Five Steps to a Good Haircut: (1) Customer's idea (2) Customer's description (3) Barber's interpretation (4) Barber's ability (5) Hair has its limits.
Next to that is a photograph of himself cutting a soldier's hair at Fort Knox in 1961. That soldier in the picture is not one of the six.
"I cut hair on the side when we were down there," Steve says. "We got called up in July 1961, then they sent us home a couple months early."
The reserves were sent home early because the crisis in Berlin did not become a shooting war. However, it did lead to the construction of the Berlin Wall. The wall is gone, but those six Guard members remain Steve's customers. They have become old friends who have seen a lot of life together since 1961.
"Not only that," says Steve, "but they're loyal, too."
Steve has cut down on his hours in recent years, working four mornings and two afternoons a week now, so his Guard mates have fewer days to choose from. They just work around it because they won't go to anyone else.
"It's like a social club," Steve says, "but I don't have to join a social club and pay dues. This way, I get the social club and they pay me."