When barber Dean Hudson, owner and operator of Dean’s Barber Shop in Dupo, posted on Facebook that he would be retiring Oct. 11, the response was remarkable.
Within 24 hours, about 2,000 people had contacted him to offer congratulations or reminisce with him.
Three weeks later, that number was over 9,500.
“Nine thousand people for just little old me,” Hudson said, tears forming in his eyes.
Dean’s Barber Shop, and by extension Hudson, has been a pillar of the Dupo community since it opened in 1972.
Hudson, a Dupo native, had originally planned to work in construction, but he injured his knees while playing high school football.
“I don’t regret being a barber,” he said. “It’s been a calling that I probably fell into. My wife would say I can’t go anywhere without people saying hi to me because I’ve touched so many people.”
That journey started between Hudson’s junior and senior year, when he signed up for classes at Belleville Barber College.
After graduating a year later, Hudson served for 2.5 years as an apprentice barber, married his wife Carole and became a master barber in 1967.
Before opening his own shop, he worked at two barbershops in East St. Louis and one in Dupo.
On his second day of work, Hudson calculated how long he would need to work before he could retire.
“I tried to figure out how many days I’d have to do that kind of work,” the 75-year-old remembered as he chuckled. “Isn’t that humorous?”
He wound up working longer than he planned, as Hudson said he has worked 20,718 days over his 56 years in the business.
“The problem is there’s no pension in this business, being self-employed,” Hudson said. “But it’s a rewarding business. I made a living at it. I put three kids through college.”
Much of the enjoyment Hudson got out of his career happened at his barbershop.
He was the fourth barber to use the room at 119 Lindemann Avenue. The building has been open since 1922, making the barbershop under its various owners the longest continuously open business in Dupo.
“I hate to be the one to stop it, but nobody has called me wanting the place,” Hudson said.
If Hudson is the last barber at the shop, he has made plenty of memories.
He recalled a time when his son was in high school and he brought some teammates from the football team over to get short flat-top haircuts. Long hair was in style at the time.
“I think that was a great thing that they all wanted to try to do something,” Hudson recalled, getting emotional as he paused cutting the hair of a 20-year customer in for one last trim. “You ought to have seen the reaction of the parents and team when these kids walked out of here with these short-cropped haircuts and everybody else has hair down to their shoulders.”
He also bemoaned that youth no longer have those kinds of experiences in barbershops.
“I regret the fact that young people today don’t know what a barbershop is all about,” Hudson explained. “It’s a community center, and these young kids today do not understand the atmosphere a barbershop provides. They’re lost in the ‘just go get a quickie haircut and out the door.’”
The response to Hudson’s retirement – which he planned for next summer but moved up because he is having two relatively major surgeries this week that will require a few months of recovery – certainly supports that idea.
In addition to the online response, cards from longtime customers lined his case the day before he closed his doors.
That is indicative of what Hudson said was the favorite part of his career.
“I’m kind of a doctor, lawyer, marriage counselor, advisor, caregiver and storyteller,” Hudson said. “I kind of straighten out other people’s lives. You have to be a little bit of everything to everybody. Whatever person walks through that door, you try to be there for that person.”
Hudson has done that for a wide-ranging group of people, as he has regular customers from Dupo, Waterloo, Columbia, East St. Louis, Collinsville, Belleville and towns in Missouri.
People who have since moved away would also come back to Dean’s Barber Shop when they returned home. Sometimes, they would bring in their kids, which Hudson said was a delight.
“It’s neat when you get a guy who walks in here and you semi-recognize him because you haven’t seen him in a long time, and he’s got a little boy with him,” Hudson said. “And he talks about sweeping the floor in here to get a soda. He wants this kid to see the shop he still talks about.”
Hudson thanked those and all his other customers in his original Facebook post announcing his retirement.
When speaking with the Republic-Times, Hudson paused to gather his emotions and think when asked what he would say to his customers before settling on a paraphrase of a Bob Hope song.
“Thanks for the memories,” he said.