Popular barbershop gets makeover from community

March 18, 2012

Throughout Whiteland, the trim was known as the "Chick Magnet."

Teenagers would take a seat in Ed Ward's worn, black leather barber chair and ask for his famous hairstyle by name. They'd watch in the mirror as Ward left their hair spiky on top, buzzed the sides and back, with a small curl of longer hair at the neckline.

On Thursday nights, before the weekend, it wasn't uncommon for the wait to be more than an hour.

"Once you got your hair cut here, you never got your hair cut anywhere else," Whiteland resident Brian Cross said.

Ward has been cutting hair in Whiteland for more than 40 years. His small shop off Tracy Road has become a gathering place for generations of men, from toddlers getting their first haircut to old-timers looking to catch up on local gossip.

Residents call him the "unofficial mayor of Whiteland." He was always available for an unscheduled trim or to give a freebie for someone who couldn't pay.

Now, when he and his family are in need, the community is rallying to repay him. Residents have come together to remodel his shop as Ward cares for his wife, Tanya, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.

"He's the backbone. He's the support of this town," said Whiteland resident Lori Stuck, who helped organize the remodeling.

Ward, 67, opened his barber shop in the Johnson County town in 1969, after co-founding two others in the area. He learned to cut hair at an early age and was good at it. But more so, he enjoyed the interaction he could have with customers.

Standing behind his barber chair, Ward was able to play counselor and friend at the same time. He would crack jokes or spark up debate about the local basketball teams when conversation died down.

"I always tried to make it laid back, kind of to treat people like they were being appreciated coming in, to know what they like, and recognize them when they came in," he said.

Whiteland resident Leroy Skaggs started coming to Ward soon after he opened the shop. Every month, he has come in to get his regular cut — a little bit off the top, trim up around the ears, and even out the back and sides.

"We love the guy. Plus, he does a good job," Skaggs said. "He's the kind of man who if you needed a haircut on a Sunday, or if you couldn't pay one week, he'd let it slide. He's a good man."

Ward never intended to stay in Whiteland as long as he did. He initially wanted to run the shop for a few years before moving on to another business opportunity in central Indiana.

"But you get here, and your roots grow deeper, and it becomes like an extended family, a huge extended family," he said.

Along the way, he became an integral part of the Whiteland community.

Generations of local residents came to the shop. Men, who had their own hair cut by Ward as boys, brought their sons to him.

The entire Whiteland basketball team, including the coaching staff, would come in the night before a game to get a trim. Former head football coach Arnie Kesling would have Ward cut a Mohawk-style to pump up the team.

The Whiteland Warriors mascot would come in before games to get a fresh "W'' cut into his hair.

On the side, he made trophies and provided them to local Little League champions. He supported fundraisers for the football team, cheerleading squads and almost every other organization that asked him.

Plastic jars collect coins to pay for Proctor Park, the Ronald McDonald House and other causes.

But Ward's greatest claim to fame was the "Chick Magnet."

Cross is credited with helping start the craze.

After a successful trim, Ward would spin him around and let him gauge the work in the mirror. One time, Cross said, "That's a chick magnet." The name and style stuck.

"We had people coming here from all over the county, Center Grove, Greenwood. It became the thing to come in, sit down and say, 'Give me a Chick Magnet,'" Ward said. "They didn't know what it was, it could have been any haircut, but they wanted it."

Even younger generations have found their way to Ward's shop.

Laden Smith started making a monthly appointment with Ward three years ago, as soon as he got his driver's license during his junior year of high school.

Though he turned away a "Chick Magnet" for a hairstyle more his style, Smith still prefers Ward's expertise to make his high fade look good before a weekend.

"He gives great haircuts, and everyone here is super friendly. They're the best people to talk to," he said. "He's like a therapist, I feel like I'm on 'The Andy Griffin Show.'"

But while the atmosphere around the shop had remained the same for 43 years, the physical condition of it had deteriorated.

Plumbing leaks had stained and ruined parts of the ceiling. Cabinets and woodworking around each barber chair were warped and faded.

The trademark red, blue and white barber pole outside the shop had stopped spinning.

"It looks almost exactly like it did 30 years ago. It just needed updating," Stuck said.

Stuck and Cross helped lead the effort to refurbish Ward's shop. The Whiteland natives host a yearly fundraiser for a local family struggling with cancer, and Ward's wife, Tanya, was diagnosed with colon cancer last year.

When Cross and Stuck started asking the community for help, the offers rolled in. Donations came from current residents and those who moved away years before.

Two people pledged to buy wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, to replace the antique television collecting dust on a corner shelf. Individual donors stepped up to buy three $250 barber chairs.

John Sonley, owner of Four Seasons Painting in Indianapolis and a Whiteland native, provided paint and labor free of charge.

"If you knew Ed, you wouldn't hesitate to help," Sonley said. "He gave me my first haircut, and I went there until I moved. I didn't hesitate when I was asked to help."

The building trades students at Central 9 Career Center remodeled the bathroom with a snazzy black-and-white checkered motif.

One donor had a door mat custom-made to read, "Chick Magnet."

"He's been so cool for everyone for so long. Now, it's time for everyone else to pay him back," Cross said.

Ward closed his shop and handed over control to the remodeling team. For five days, they tore out old carpet and linoleum, disassembled the old barber chairs and took down the time-worn wallpaper.

The new equipment was brought in, TVs were mounted, walls painted and a new ceiling installed. Even the barber pole was repaired, spinning slowly outside the door.

To know the community had come together to help is overwhelming, Ward said. When he talks about it, his voice breaks a little bit.

His goal when he opened his shop was to create a welcoming atmosphere where people would feel comfortable sitting for a few minutes for a haircut. He treated customers like friends and now realizes that they saw him the same way.

"It's one of the neatest experiences you'll ever have knowing that this many people care," Ward said. "Too many times, you go through life just coasting, but to know this many people are here for you, it's nice."


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