CAMERON - The year was 1963 and Denzil Hennen was ready to give up. He only had two customers on his first day of business in Cameron. But when he told his father he was going to leave, his father urged him to go back and try again.
"He told me I had to go back. He said, 'You can't let one day judge what you are going to do,'" Hennen said. "On the second day, 12 people came in. On the third day, there were 14."
Within six months, Hennen was happy to tell his father he was cutting 100 heads of hair each week at a rate of $1 each.
Photo by Daniel Dorsch
Barber Denzil Hennen stands in his Cameron barber shop, marking 50 years of service to the community.
"Those were pretty good wages in 1963," Hennen said. "The minimum wage was $1 an hour at that time."
Fifty years later, Hennen said his shop has become the place to go in Cameron for some gossip or to visit with neighbors and friends.
"It's a center attraction," Hennen said. "There are always a lot of visitors and loafers here, a lot of stories told."
Hennen was born and raised in Monongalia County, W.Va., where he graduated from Clay-Battelle High School. After graduation, Hennen said he struggled to find work so his brother talked him into attending Wheeling Barber College. His education required him to serve one year as an apprentice under a professional barber before he could receive his Master Barber License.
"I knew absolutely nobody in Cameron," Hennen said as he described working as an apprentice under Cameron barber Doug Fry. "Not one person."
But Hennen said he was still young at the time and easily connected with the high school crowd.
He remembers Mark Hinerman, the very first high school student whose hair he cut in Cameron.
"I cut approximately every head of high school hair for the first few years," Hennen said. "I really propelled my business forward working with the kids."
Wayne Turk and Gary Allen were among the first customers whose hair Hennen cut, and they remain some of his most loyal customers and close friends.
Hennen married Bonnie Bungard in 1972, and they have one daughter who lives in Tennessee with her husband and children.
During a visit to city hall last year, Hennen said Mayor Julie Beresford pointed out that he had cut hair for five generations of her family. Hennen said he can also remember cutting hair for five generations of the Hartley and Hill families, and many more four-generation families.
"That makes me kind of proud," Hennen said, pointing to his work record with gratitude to the community. "There's never been a day in my life that I haven't done business."
He said he notices the changing economic landscape and sees how unique and rare his business has become.
"Not too many other people can say they've made a living out of one job in a small town," Hennen said.
Professional barbers, according to Hennen, are a dying breed.
"I'm the last of the generation of barbers," he said. "Most people who cut hair now are cosmotologists or hair stylists."
A small, private celebration honoring Hennen's record of service to the city will be held Friday. Beresford will present Hennen with a plaque acknowledging his 50 years in business.