Marshalltown barber celebrates 50 year career

“I never intended to be a barber,” said Jim Brothers of Marshalltown with a straight face.

But a barber he became, and Friday he celebrated his 50th year in the profession.

And 30 minutes after opening Jim was busy – there was much hair on the floor and the telephone was ringing frequently at his business – Jim’s Barbershop, 8 W. Church St. in Marshalltown.

The day’s appointment book was filling up – a barber’s delight.

Two days before, approximately 20 customers, friends and family, dropped in and surprised Jim with a huge, colorful cake celebrating his career, while fittingly, he cut a customer’s hair.

Spouse Teddi Brothers and daughters Tina Weber and Jodi Hindgardner were along and helped organize the event with some of his long-time customers.

Bill Bonzer was one – he’s been a customer of Jim’s for 50 years.

So are many others.

“I come to Jim because he knows how to do a flat top,” said Jim Fiscus of Marshalltown on Friday while Brothers cut his hair.

From flat tops of the early 1960s to men’s long hair in the 1970s and then back to the flat top in recent years, Jim has seen it all.

One thing that never changed was Jim’s creed of taking care of his customers.

“Jim has shown his love and loyalty to his aging customers by cutting their hair at nursing homes,” said Teddi. “And if they are ill he has often times gone to their homes.”

Youngsters get his personal touch as well.

“Children always enjoy getting a few pennies from Jim to use in his shop’s old-fashioned bubble gum machine,” said Teddi.

Brothers has also given free haircuts for job seekers at Marshalltown’s House of Compassion – the town’s homeless shelter.

An elderly tenant, the late Frank Vest, who lived above his shop at a previous location had no family.

Jim befriended him, gave him odd jobs to do around the shop, and then took care of him when he fell ill.

“When Vest passed away, Jim made sure he received a proper burial,” said Teddi. “Several of Jim’s friends, his minister and Vest’s friends arranged a graveside service.”

Growing up on the family farm five miles east of town, Jim knew he wanted to be in business for himself.

Ironically, taking over the farm was not possible he said, because there wasn’t enough land for all.

Electronics school seemed an interesting option, but watching a movie of a television repairman soldering dissuaded him.

A barber suggested attending barber school, and Jim followed his advice.

He enrolled in a Des Moines school, but came home on weekends to help on the family farm.

“I rented a room at the Des Moines YMCA-YWCA and walked to school,” he said. “I figured I had nothing to lose, if barbering didn’t work out I would try something else.”

After 50 years, he’s cutting the hair for second generations of folks he serviced years ago.

A grandfather himself, he quit working on Saturdays – after 40 years of dutifully working them- so he could take in some of his grandchildren’s activities.

“Jim finally gave them up a few years ago,” Teddi said. “He now works Tuesday through Friday. That was hard for him to do as he worried about what was best for his customers.”

Kem Wilkening of Marshalltown has been cutting hair beside Jim for 29 years.

She was hired by Brothers and has earned his admiration and respect.

“Jim often teases Kem about being the boss,” Teddi said. “Kem is a gem at Jim’s Barbershop.”

Their relationship is a special one after many years.

Jim’s career has not gone unnoticed by other hair care professionals.

One is veteran beautician and businesswoman Marla Grabenbauer, owner of Marla’s Headliner on Main Street.

“Jim has been very successful,” said Grabenbauer. “He is a great guy, his customers like him, and he has treated his clients like family … he’s been a fair and honest businessman.”