A lot has changed in Fennimore throughout the past 50 years. Businesses (Cullen Jewelry, Eisle’s, Fennimore Interiors, Ben Franklin) and people (David Brendemeuhl, John Nick Kramer, Charlie Roethe, Arden Wood) have come and gone.
In the midst of the changes of the past 50 years, one thing has remained a constant: Ed Thoftne has been here to cut hair.
Thoftne will celebrate 50 years as a barber with a reception at Ed’s Barber Shop next Wednesday, June 13. Refreshments will be served from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m.
Thoftne knew at an early age what his calling was.
“I guess I might have been in seventh or eighth grade when I thought about being a barber,” he said. “I knew my great-grandpa was a barber and my grandpa was a barber.
“It was something that stuck in my head.”
Thoftne grew up in Soldiers Grove but found limited options in Wisconsin when it came time to attend barber college.
“At that particular time there were only two in the state of Wisconsin,” he explained. “They were full, so I went to a private barber school in Rock Island, Ill.”
When Thoftne graduated from Rock Island Barber College in 1962 he would have relocated nearly anywhere to cut hair, but fate drew him to Fennimore.
“From Soldiers Grove I was driving right through, back-and-forth to Rock Island,” he said. “I just happened to see a ‘barber wanted’ sign in the barber shop.
“The guy says, ‘I’ll take the sign out of the window, you come back when you graduate.’ So I did.”
The ‘guy’ was Mac McCormick.Thoftne worked McCormick until 1969, when he opened Ed’s Barber Shop at 1066 Lincoln Avenue.
“The reason I got this place in the first place was Bernie Friesen,” Thoftne said. “He was a close friend and he had this part of the vet clinic empty and he wanted me to start a shop in here.
“He just demanded that I open a barber shop. I owe a lot to Bernie Friesen.”
Ed’s Barber Shop was not only a barber shop, but a gathering place and home to a “coffee clatch.”
Thoftne explained Todd Rogers was the founder of the coffee clatch.
“When Todd had his heart operation he had to walk. I came to work one morning and Todd was standing there on the corner and said they should have a bench so he could sit down to rest,” he said. “I told him I can do better than that, I’ll give you a key so you can go in and sit down.
“The next thing I know he’s got Bill Rubin over here and he’s got Harold Zimpel and half the town having coffee.”
“Half the town” included Bob Bray, Vigirl Brodt, Earl Streeter, Vic Daniels, Bill Howard and “so many others you cant list them all,” Thoftne said.
“The next thing you know we have a toaster going. [Rubin] would bring over bread he couldn’t sell anymore and out-of-date rolls.”
Virgil Brodt has been a loyal customer of Thoftne’s for 50 years. He became a member of the coffee clutch in 1989 when he retired from the Fennimore Telephone Company.
“I was on Main Street with him here for 38 years,” Brodt said. “Someone had to keep him honest, and on the straight and narrow.”
“I don’t think he ever went anywhere else,” Thoftne joked. “I don’t think anyone else would put up with him.”
Rick McLimans received his first barber shop haircut from Thoftne and visited for a trim on a recent Friday morning.
“I learn something every time I’m here,” McLimans said. “There is something about getting a haircut from a man barber, it’s unlike other experiences.”
Brian Daniels, owner of Daniels Trucking, has been sweeping the floor during his visit to Ed’s Barber Shop for 32 years.
“I’ve tried barbers on the road, but I’ve never found anyone who can cut a flat top like Ed,” Brian said. “Ed is good people if you want a good time and a good laugh, not only a good hair cut.”
The flat top is one haircut Thoftne is well-known for.
“I have always took a lot of pride in my flat tops,” he said. “I’ve had people come from all over just to get flat tops.”
As is the case with his customers, Thoftne enjoys the camaraderie that has become a staple of Ed’s Barber Shop.
“What I enjoy most is the people. It’s about like being a bartender, you get everybody’s troubles and good times,” he said. “If someone shot a good golf score they can’t wait to tell you and if they caught a big fish they can’t wait to tell you.
“I can’t think of anything that would be any more fun than being a barber.”
Fifty years into his career, Thoftne does not plan to put away his clippers any time soon.
“This really isn’t work, it never has been. I don’t have any thoughts of retiring,” he said. “I love the semi-retirement that I have right now.
“Fennimore has been awful good to me, I tell you that.”