It’s an exercise in futility to try to count the hairs on a person’s head, so it’s that much more useless to try to count the amount of hair Gary Wood, 77, has cut since he first started barbering in 1962.
So the master barber doesn’t even try, but he does say that in his half-year of training at the then-Kansas School of Barbering in Wichita, he cut 1,600 heads of hair. Extrapolate that number out over his career, and you get the really rough number of tens of thousands of clients in 57 years in Aggieville.
Wood traces his Manhattan roots beyond Aggieville though. His great-grandfather homesteaded where the Stagg Hill Golf Course is now, and Wood himself was born in a since-demolished house at what is now the site of Pier 1 at Seth Child Commons.
It only made sense for Wood to come back to town after barber school in Wichita and start his career at the Campus Barbershop in 1963, although that one was different than the current barbershop by that name, Wood said. The one he started at was at 1214 Moro St., where Jimmy John’s and Olson’s Shoe Service are located today.
In 1970, Wood bought the business and changed the name to Mr. G’s Roffler Family Hair Center. He later moved to Hair Dimensions at 717 N. 11th St. and remained there until 1997, when he moved to 1109 Moro St., where Cozy Inn Hamburgers is now, to work with Hector “Junior” Secord at Junior’s Barbershop. Finally, he moved to and opened Wildcat Barber Shop at 1100 Laramie St., where he has been since.
For that reason, it’s safe to say that Wood himself, rather than any one location, has been a barbering cornerstone of Aggieville.
Like many other business owners who are K-State fans, Wood has his shop decked out in purple memorabilia, but a closer look at some of the items shows Wood’s personal connection to K-State history.
His clients over the years have included several K-State coaches and players, but his most famous client might be actor Eric Stonestreet, before his “Modern Family” fame.
Stonestreet even stopped in to say hello a couple of years ago before going to a K-State football game, and although he didn’t get his hair cut then, a signed photo of Stonestreet adorns Wood’s shop.
Back then, Wood said he had more a “captive audience” in college kids and soldiers, who did not have many barbering options beyond Aggieville.
“The first question I got when I came back to Aggieville was, ‘Can you cut a flat top?’” Wood said.
Beyond the students and soldiers who come and go, Wood has had his share of loyal locals. Although his original customers’ hair might be white now, Wood has no problem obliging their requests for him to come cut their hair at Meadowlark Hills retirement community. Other customers, like Tom Fryer, still make the dutiful trip down to his barbershop. Fryer, an Air Force veteran, has been going to Wood since 1981, when he asked his coworkers for a barber recommendation.
“They said go see Gary in Aggieville. He’s got good service and he’s a great guy — I say that right as he’s tightening up the noose,” Fryer joked while Wood put a hair cape around his neck.
A lot can change in a half-century at the same profession, but Wood said much of the job has stayed the same.
“There’s not nearly as many barbers as there used to be, but of course, the qualifications have changed,” Wood said. “I wouldn’t say it’s harder now, but they do go a little bit more into learning how to do color and perms now. We picked that up by our own hands when I bought the beauty shop, since long hair was coming in, but we thought that would be a passing fad.
“Everything goes in a circle,” Wood said. “All of the cuts we were doing back then are the ones we’re doing now. Of course, they’re a bit modified, but they’re still popular.”
Of course, prices have changed quite a bit since Wood cut his first head of hair. Haircuts back then were a buck-twenty-five, he said, but he charges $17 now, on par with a lot of other independent barbershops.
Beside Wood’s service, Fryer said he keeps coming back because the barbershop is a marketplace of ideas.
“It’s always neat to come out here and hear what people have been talking about,” Fryer said.
At 77 years old, Wood hasn’t slowed down much, and he attributes that to the constant business he sees.
“It keeps you young,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of action going on all the time, and you meet a lot of kids from all over the state.”