|Being sheared by a pro, Angie Schoenecker updates her hairstyle with the help of Ken Henley, former Ken's Kontinental owner of 31 years. Henley continues at the Oakville barbershop, now known as Gail's Place, despite new ownership. (click for larger version)|
Veteran barber spends 42 years cutting hair in Oakville, loves his job too much to retire
Years ago, haircuts from an Oakville barber cost $1.75. Now haircuts from the same barber cost about $9.
Ken Henley, who has been cutting hair in Oakville for 42 years, turned 70 at the beginning of June and while prices may have changed, Henley believes that he has stayed the same.
Henley has lived in St. Louis County for 60 years and owned Ken's Kontinental, which formerly was located at 4342 Telegraph Road, for 31 years.
Three years ago he sold the shop to Gail Stone. The name changed to Gail's Place, but Henley remained.
Though he has tried to retire, he has found that he loves his job so much that he keeps coming back.
"I keep saying I plan on retiring soon, but I just can't seem to do it, even though that time is near," he told the Call.
He loves his job, according to Susie Brindell, one of Henley's neighbors.
"He's not just a neighbor, but a friend too," Brindell told the Call. "We have spent time talking and sitting by the pool, and you can just tell that he loves what he does."
Henley gave Brindell's son, Tom, his first haircut nearly 22 years ago.
"It's neat to realize that years ago I had customers as little kids on the board and now I have their kids on the board too," Henley said.
Though Henley did not grow up with a dream of becoming a barber, he found that after getting into the field, he liked it very much, he said.
In his early 20s, Henley was working as a machine operator. The hours he worked were scant and he sought another job.
One day, he was in a barbershop and was telling the barber of his plight and the barber recommended he go to barber school.
The idea stuck. Henley pursued it and has been cutting hair ever since.
"My family was very supportive," he said. "I went to school all day and worked all night at the machine shop. It was 21 hours from the time I got up to the time I went to bed."
As the years have passed, the south county barber has noticed many things change. Much of it has to do with the growth of the area around his shop.
"Over the years, everything out there has sprung up," he said. "Before these shopping centers there was nothing down the road but a Tomboy Market," Henley said of Telegraph.
"I remember when there were no stoplights at Telegraph and Forder and Telegraph and Yaeger. It was just stop signs."
When the shop was still Ken's Kontinental, it had lots of brown paneling and arches on the walls. Henley recalled that he had lots of framed vacation photos on the wall.
Though he likes to travel, he only takes one week a year for vacation, otherwise he feels it takes too long to catch up.
In addition to travel, Henley is a car enthusiast and devotes much of his time to caring for his 1959 Cadillac. He has won numerous awards and trophies from state shows, of which he has entered the classic.
He laughingly admitted that some children call his car the "Batmoblile."
Whether it's trends in cars or trends in hairstyles, Henley believes he is well aware of what's popular.
"Back in the '60s hair was short. It's short again now, but for a period, long was in again," he said. "Whatever the style, I can usually figure out what the customer wants."
Stone, who now owns the barbershop, told the Call she could definitely see why the customers love Henley.
She thinks a big part of it has to do with how he has kept many of the same customers over the years.
"Ken definitely loves his job and the customers," she said. "I know he has several customers who are regulars. He's tried to retire three or four times now, but he keeps coming back. When he retires, it will be sad."
"He loves coming in here," she continued. "He even comes in on his day off sometimes to help sweep and do little things around the shop. We'll miss him."
Henley added, "Over the years I've given lots of good cuts and become good friends with some of my customers outside of work. It's been great and they're some fantastic people."