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A last trip down memory lane as sun sets on Willmar, Minn., barber’s 54-year career (video)

Denny Dawson cuts the hair of Curt Palmer on Tuesday at his barbershop. Dawson, who is retiring, will close the store for good Thursday. He has operated the store in downtown Willmar for parts of the past six decades. Tribune photo by Gary Miller2 / 2

WILLMAR - They couldn’t be described as a crowd. But there was a steady stream of longtime customers coming and going Tuesday at Denny Dawson’s barbershop in downtown Willmar. Some stopped to chat for a minute and write in a book of well wishes and memories. Others stayed and waited patiently to have Dawson cut their hair one last time.

They sat on chairs lined along a wall where antlers, a fish, a goose and a shelf of antique barber mugs once hung. Now the walls are bare.

When the 73-year-old Dawson closes his shop doors Thursday, it will be for the last time.

It won’t be the end of barbershops in Willmar, but it will be pretty close.

“When I started 54 years ago, I was the 15th in downtown Willmar,” Dawson said.

Now there are two full-time barbers working in Willmar, he added, as he trimmed a regular customer’s hair extra short. Those waiting guessed out loud that the man in Dawson’s chair wanted a little extra taken off because he wasn’t sure where he would be getting his next haircut.

Dawson said he probably wouldn’t recommend being a barber to a young person looking for a career. For him, however, it’s been a good life.

“I was lucky with the right job and the right wife,” Dawson said.

A 1958 graduate of Willmar High School, Dawson attended barber school and returned to Willmar. He worked with his father, Clyde, until he opened his own shop.

He and his wife, Barb, bought the clothing store adjacent to his Fifth Street Southwest shop, Ranny’s Men’s Center, and operated it for 14 years.

Denny and Barb have four children who have all settled either in Willmar or within an hour or two’s drive.

“They’re close enough that it’s easy to get a grandkid fix,” Dawson said of their 10 grandchildren.

Dawson’s customers also span more than one generation. Some have gone to him for the entire 54 years of his career.

“For a lot of customers, I gave them their first haircuts and now I’m giving their kids their first haircut,” Dawson said.

His customers had a variety of recommendations for Dawson regarding continuing his work.

Some said they heard he was going to set up shop at various locations, including his garage. Others asked him about making house calls.

He’s done plenty of house calls over the years, Dawson said.

“I’ve even gone to the mortuary,” he said, adding, “I didn’t get any grief from my customers there.”

An open house retirement reception will be held in Dawson’s honor from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 10 at The Oaks at Eagle Creek in Willmar.

Gary Miller

Gary Miller is a Designer for Forum Communications Co. Born and attended public schools in Willmar, Minn. Served 20 years in U.S. Navy as a photojournalist. Worked at West Central Tribune and Forum Communications since retiring from the Navy in 1994.

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