Behind the chair: From show biz to barbering
By Kris Leonhardt
The Schalow family has been a presence in Marshfield barbering since the 1930s. Very few will be able to recall a time when the Schalow barber shop didn’t exist at its 205 N. Central Ave. location, and even fewer will be able to recall a time when a Schalow wasn’t behind the clippers.
However, had it not been for a failed talent audition, the Schalow family may have chosen a completely different path.
In 1937, the family loaded up their musical talent and headed for Warner Brothers Studio.
“It took us three weeks to get to California,” said Jerry Schalow, sole proprietor of what is now Jerry’s Barber Shop.
At the time Jerry was just seven years old, his brother, Dick was five, and brother, Russ was eight. When the audition didn’t secure a place in Hollywood, the family returned to the Marshfield area with their own reward – memories that would last a lifetime.
The following year, Jerry’s dad Merlin “Shorty” Schalow began a career in barbering.
“My dad started barbering in town here,” explained Schalow. “He worked for someone else… Then he started a barber shop about a block down, where Ray Kohlbeck was in later, on (the east) side of the street.”
Shorty later moved to the back side of the tavern that once stood on the northeast corner of Arnold Street and Central Avenue, next door to Jerry’s current shop.
“He bought this building in 1946, and I’ve been here since 1950,” said Schalow.
In those days, barbering was booming business. At one point, Schalow counts about a dozen barbers in the city of Marshfield.
The Schalow boys grew up learning the value of hard work and long hours, as well as overcoming obstacles.
“I remember that we used to pick beans for three cents a pound,” said Schalow. “That’s how we earned our first bicycle and just about lost our life. We could ride two on a bike.”
While riding on the bike, Dick and Jerry were hit head on by a car. Jerry suffered a skull fracture and a ruptured ear drum.
“I am lucky to be here,” he said, “I was unconscious for three days.”
The boys and their mother, Margie, kept a farm, milking as many as 28 cows by hand, while their dad worked long hours behind the chair.
As the boys grew, it was a natural progression to follow in their father’s footsteps in not only work ethics, but career choice as well, but barbering wasn’t an easy field to pursue in those days.
“I went to barber school in Eau Claire, and you had to go to barber school for nine months, and then you were an apprentice for two years and three months,” Schalow explained. “You had to go to vocational school every other week for a half day. Then, you write a journeyman test – practical and written – and then you barber another year under a shop manager. Then, you write a master test and if you passed that, two months later you wrote a shop manager’s test – that was just written.
“Everything has changed now. We had four barber schools in the state. I went to Eau Claire, my dad went to Milwaukee, then we had them in Green Bay and Madison. I think that Russ went to the school in Rockford (IL) and Dick went to Chicago. At that time, you couldn’t get into barbering schools, because there was so many taking up barbering.”
Part II: Click here for Brothers in business