The final cut

March 22, 2012

Baylor's barbershop closes its doors

After barbering a collective 102 years in Baylor's barbershop, Ervin Davis and Norman Gilchrest are closing a chapter of the university's history.

The doors to Baylor's barbershop in the Bill Daniel Student Center (SUB) closed in December, when Gilchrest, 66, fully retired and the already-retired Davis, 86, moved to a part-time position at another studio in Waco.

The closing marked the end of an era for the university, as Davis and Gilchrest had been fixtures in the SUB since their respective arrivals in 1955 and 1966. During their years at Baylor, the two men groomed more than good hair. They developed a lifetime of friendship.

Davis said Baylor's barbershop opened in 1948, but it wasn't until a friend recommended him to the shop that he applied for the position.

"Another barber friend recommended me to Ms. Mathis (Marie Mathis, director of the SUB during the 1950s), who ran the building at that time," Davis said. "I came and talked to her and she begged me to take it (the job), so I did. I came and lived happily ever after."

Davis met Gilchrest 10 years later through a mutual friend.

"The first time I met him (Davis), I was still in barber school," Gilchrest said. "The man who owned the barber school brought me down here right before I went to finish and introduced me to Mr. Davis, and thought I would fit in good here."

But the day Gilchrest received his barber certification, he also received a military notice. Gilchrest filled in for barbers in a shop in the former Lake Air Shopping Center until he was called to basic training for the United States National Guard. When he returned, Davis was waiting with an offer.

"When I came back, I heard Mr. Davis had been trying to get in touch with me and wanted to know if I wanted to come down (to Baylor), and he offered me the job," Gilchrest said.

"It's been a perfect fit," Davis added.

While the two men enjoy teasing each other, one thing they take seriously are the friendships they've created while at Baylor.

"Through all of it, the most important thing to me is developing all the close -- emphasis on close -- friendships, which to me is something you can't buy if they're true friends," Davis said. "And I would consider that I have discovered a lot of true friends."

Gilchrest said he couldn't agree more.

"Probably the greatest thing about working here was over the years developing, I couldn't begin to guess how many, true friends," he said. "I'll be sitting at home and I'll get a call, and it'll be a former student whose hair I cut when he was here, and he'd say, 'I was just thinking of you a while ago and wanted to see how you are doing.'"

One such friend is Dr. Joel Porter, BA '87, MSED '90, director of enrollment management and advising at Baylor's School of Education, who has had his hair cut at the barbershop for more than 20 years.

"I came to Baylor as a freshman in 1983, so I've been getting my hair cut on and off here since then," Porter said. "It (the barbershop) was convenient, but more importantly, they're great guys. You weren't just getting a haircut; you were meeting with friends. It was just a great place to be. It wasn't just the haircut; it was the people, the experience, the relationships."

Davis and Gilchrest expect to maintain both their own and customer friendships even though they will no longer be working together.

"I'll make him buy me coffee every now and then," Gilchrest joked. "We'll still get together when I'm 100 years old and cutting hair," Davis responded.

But both said they will miss the Baylor family.

"Of course, I've got mixed emotions (about retiring) when you've been somewhere 45 years," Gilchrest said. "Baylor is such a unique place, I can't picture another university like Baylor -- which I'm sure some could argue -- but it's more of a family atmosphere here. Everybody's close, everybody knows everybody. You become a part of the family, and that's what I'll miss."

No definite plans have been made for the space that housed the barbershop.