Longtime Stettler businessman Vern Dempsey is celebrating 60 years as a main street barber this month.
He cuts his way into the local history books for having such a lengthy career in barbering.
His 60 years of trimming locks has been done from the same location. Although he moved into a new building during that time, the business sits on the same lot.
Dempsey, 79, came to Stettler in August 1952 to work for well-known Stettler barber Ivor McIvor. He worked for McIvor for 25 years before buying the business and naming it Vern’s Barber Shop.
McIvor wasn’t ready to totally retire, so he worked for Dempsey for another five years.
“We both got a turn to be boss,” Dempsey said with a laugh.
Dempsey recalls a time when Stettler had five barber shops and there were three barbers in the shop where he worked.
“Back then, a haircut was 50 cents for men and 35 cents for kids,” Dempsey recalled.
Today, the charge is $16 for men and $14 for seniors and children.
“The money is much better now,” Dempsey said.
From his main street vantage point, Dempsey has seen many changes and much growth in Stettler during the past six decades. Most notably, he has seen the town’s population double.
“Stettler had a population of about 2,900 when I came,” he said.
“It has always been a good business town.”
Dempsey was raised on a farm near Cabri, Sask.
“I didn’t like school much and was anxious to get out,” he reflected.
“My father saw an ad in the Free Press Weekly for a barber school in Regina, and suggested I try it.”
Dempsey took his father’s advice and, at age 16, enrolled in the six-month course, which cost $125.
“We had to dig to get that much money together,” Dempsey remembered.
After he completed the course, an apprenticeship of one-and-a-half years was required before he could write the final exam.
The Dempsey family relocated to a ranch south of Consort and the young Dempsey got his first job as a barber in Coronation. He worked there two years before moving to Stettler. In all, Dempsey has 62 years of the barber trade under his belt.
In 1953, Dempsey and his sweetheart, Mae Deagle from Consort, were married. The couple raised a family of five children on a barber’s pay. Vern was widowed in 2009.
Dempsey has seen changes in the trend of hairstyles over his career. He said during the time when men wore their hair longer and wanted a particular style, some had to be referred to hairstylists.
At almost 80 years old, the still-energetic Dempsey says he has cut his work week back — from six days a week to five. He used to work Saturdays, as well. He no longer works to 6 p.m. every day, either. He now closes his shop at 4 p.m.
Dempsey is not only celebrating 60 years in the barber business in Stettler, he’s also celebrating a new marriage. He and Barb were wed just a few weeks ago.
“Barber shops are the end of an era,” Dempsey said.
He’s not sure who will take over, when he and others like him, are gone.
Dempsey said he has enjoyed his long career as a barber. He can recall many funny incidents that happened over the years and some colourful characters stand out.
Traditionally, folks have stopped by the local barber shop, whether they need a haircut or not, just to visit and catch up on the news.
Dempsey is undecided as to when he will hang up his scissors for retirement.
“As long as health permits, I will work,” he said.