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BOWLING GREEN — It soon will be OK to call Ray Fahle a centenarian, but don’t call him a barber, lest he correct you. No, he’s a “tonsorial artist.”
“That’s how I’ve always liked to refer to myself,” he said, with a wink.
Mr. Fahle, who lives in Bowling Green, will turn 100 on March 6. For most of his working life he cut hair, starting in 1934 and quitting in 1972, when he took a janitorial job at Bowling Green High School.
He cut hair in a lot of places in northwest Ohio: Pemberville, Bono, Bryan, West Unity, Gibsonburg, and Bowling Green. He also spent a year in southern California giving haircuts at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
His experiences in these places and the high school are among the memories he’ll share at his birthday party, slated for March 9 in First United Methodist Church, Bowling Green. The potluck affair is to run from 3 to 7 p.m. No gifts please.
His daughter, Glenna Heimerdinger, said hundreds of people could show up at the widely publicized event. “Last year, at his 99th birthday party, about 60 came, and it was not announced. So I don’t know, we may have 200 people,” Mrs. Heimerdinger said.
That would be just fine with Mr. Fahle. He came across a lot of people during his barbering days and years as a custodian, and would be happy to see some of them again. One person who will not be there is his beloved Madeline, whom he married in 1933. She died in 2000, but his memories of their long, happy marriage, which produced a son and daughter, are fresh and detailed. “We eloped,” he said, simply. “We went off to Indiana with another couple, got married, then came back home and kept it a secret for two weeks.”
He lived in Pemberville with his family at that time, while she was from Wayne. They decided to elope for the most practical of reasons: The other groom, whom he met at an air show in Wood County, said he would pay all expenses if Mr. Fahle drove everyone to Indiana. So he did, in a borrowed Ford. Which left them with a delicate issue: how to break the news in Pemberville and Wayne, where they continued to live with their families, as if nothing had changed.
When the young couple finally broke their silence, there was deep unhappiness in her family. After all, he was an apprentice barber with no job. Eventually he obtained his barber’s license and began to earn money, and his in-laws relented. He opened a shop in Bono and lived above it with his family. He enjoyed barbering so much he wrote a memoir, My Life As a Barber, that he self-published in 2000.
He experienced a disorientation upon starting janitorial work, described in his memoir: “Having been in barbering for so many years, the only clothes I felt comfortable in and had to wear were dress shoes, dress trousers, white shirt, and tie. My hands were soft because I had been barbering, so I wore white gloves to protect my hands from blisters.”
He continued to cut the hair of his son, Dwayne, who said, “Dad is one heck of a good barber.”