A cut Above the Rest
Knutson, Jonathan. "A cut Above the Rest." Forum, 21 October 2000, sec. 1B.
North Dakota's youngest barber Jeremy
Mehlhoff, 19, gives a haircut to customer Ed Pewe in Ashley,
ASHLEY, N.D. -The shop is small, dim and quiet. There are two barber
chairs (one is never used), some magazines, a few decorative old-time
barbering tools on the walls. There are no cell phones or high-tech
gadgets, none of the hustle and bustle of modern-day life.
Jeremy Mehlhoff, between customers, sits in one of the chairs and
is at ease - at peace, even - with the unhurried world around him.
"I lived in Fargo and it was all rush - rush. I like this
better. This is the kind of life for me," he says.
Mehlhoff, 19, is North Dakota's youngest barber. For the past few
months he's been apprenticing at Bendewald Barber Shop here. He'll
complete his apprentice next year and become the shop's proprietor.
"I like it here and I'm getting enough customers to pay the
bills. That’s pretty good, I think," he says.
Why pick barbering as a career?
Mehlohoff says he enjoys working with people and was inspired by
a relative who barbered professionally.
And why Ashley? Why not set up shop in a big city and soak up the
bright lights there?
He laughs. "I grew up in a real small town, Tuttle, N.D. (population
about 150). I just like the lifestyle in a smaller town. It's slower,
friendlier-and it's easier to get to know people."
The 1999 high school graduate got a taste of urban life while studying
at Moler Barber College in Fargo. He says he enjoyed his 10 months
of barber training, which ended this spring, and made many friends
in Fargo, but realized small town life suits him best.
Ashley, 180 miles southwest of Fargo-Moorhead, fits the bill. Primarily
a farming and ranching town, it has about 1,000 residents.
Just as importantly, it had a veteran barber who wanted to sell
"I'd been hoping to locate someone who'd take it over, and
we were so excited to find Jeremy," says Reinie Bendewald,
76, who has barbered in Ashley for 50 years.
The plan is for Mehlhoff to buy the shop next year after he completes
Bendewald says Mehlhoff is doing just fine.
"He's very good with people and is fitting in well. The
community has always supported me, and I'm sure it will support
him, too," Bendewald says.
One important piece of advice Bendewald gave Mehlhoff: "There
will be good days. There will be bad days, too, when you don’t
get many customers. You need a lot of patience on those slow days."
Mehlhoff has taken that advice to heart. On slow days he sits in
one of the barber chairs, waits patiently (virtually all of his
customers are walk-ins) and reads magazines, mostly ones about the
"I've done more reading here than I ever did in high school,"
Mehlhoff is part of a generational changing of the guard on Ashley's
Many of the town's businesses are now managed or owned by young
people, which Mehlhoff and Bendewald say are bodes well for
the town's future.
Mehlhoff says his age and youthful appearance aren't a big deal
to most customers.
"A few people might be a little nervous at first, but they
seem to accept me," he says
He just laughs about the female customer who refused to let him
near her hair while he was studying at Moler Barber College. Students
at the school give low-priced haircuts to the public.
"She thought I was some 12 year old kid who’d gotten
hold of the scissors," he says.
Most of Mehlhoff’s customers in Ashley are men. He hopes that
more women will begin patronizing his shop.
Cutting hair for a living takes more than just knowing how to use
a scissors. It also requires the ability to schmooze a little with
"You want to make people feel welcome, help them be comfortable,"
Mehloff is plenty comfortable in Ashley. He enjoys bowling
(Ashley has it’s own lanes) and loves to hunt in nearby fields
and pastures. He'll be taking a rare day off from work on Nov.
10, the opening day of North Dakota's deer hunting season.
Besides being the youngest barber in North Dakota, Mehlhoff just
might be one of the happiest, too.
"I really like the way my life is working out," he says.
"Living in Ashley. Being a barber. I wouldn't want anything
Mehlhoff tidies up after
a haircut, folding the apron he puts over his customers.
Mehlhoff, despite his youthful appearance,
says he has been well accepted in Ashley. Here he works on
customer Ed Pewe's Hair
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.