OTTUMWA — Darrell Smith’s hands are steady and sure as he picks up his clippers and straight razor to begin his first haircut and shave of the day.
Smith, 88, has cut hair for 62 years and has owned Smitty’s Barber Shop on Albia Road for the past 58 years, but he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
“I haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he said.
Smith sees around 15 customers a day, most of them regulars. His straight-razor style of shaving which was so common at barber shops in the early 20th century has since fallen out of fashion except at those shops, like Smith’s, that have survived to this day.
May marks Older Americans Month, the theme of which is “Unleash the Power of Age!” this year. The month of appreciation, sponsored by the Seneca Area Agency on Aging, emphasizes the important role older adults play in everyone’s lives.
After coming home from serving in the U.S. Army during the Cold War, Smith decided to use the G.I. Bill to fund his education at barber school.
He went to the American College of Hairstyling for barbering in Des Moines in 1951, graduating after six months of school and an 18-month apprenticeship at a barber shop on Church Street. The building was built in 1927 and was a Shell gas station up until Smith converted it into the barber shop in 1955.
Earl Stocker, 82, has been coming to Smitty’s for 10 years and said he comes back again and again because the shave feels good and lasts a long time — and the conversation doesn’t hurt either.
“My dad was a barber, and he used to shave me with a straight razor,” Stocker said. “We talk politics, religion, everything else. We solve some of the world’s greatest problems right here. The U.N. should come to us for answers.”