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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Crivitz's "Jerry the Barber" Retires After 66 Years in Barber Business

Issue Date: June 17, 2020

After doing his part to keep a 100-year-old family tradition

going for 66 of his 85 years, Crivitz icon Jerry Kapalczynski, better known to the community as "Jerry the Barber," has decided to put down his clippers, retire and enjoy life.

Jerry has been cutting hair out of the same location in downtown Crivitz for 44 years and has served thousands of satisfied customers.

"Wish I'd put a dime away for every hair cut I did," Jerry commented. But perhaps more than money, he values the friendships that were built over the years. He will miss seeing those people, but will not miss the long hours on his feet that barbering requires.

The decision to close the shop he has operated at 604 Main Street in Crivitz since1976 didn't come easily for Jerry. He had a knee replaced in January, after which his legs started giving out. He hasn't held regular hours since then. Then came the coronavirus, which shut everyone down. "My body and my wife told me it was time," Jerry said. "My wife Clara and I have been married for 64 years and I knew I'd better listen to her." The shop remains closed and is now for sale.

He will miss the customers, many of whom kept coming as much for the conversation as for the haircuts.

During one period in the shop's history, that conversation involved parking meters.

Jerry chuckles as he being reprimanded years ago by Carl Deschane, who was Crivitz Village president at the time, for having two parking meters placed in front of his barbershop. There were never any official parking meters in Crivitz. Those in front of the barbershop didn't really work, and there was always time left showing, but people would still either put money in them or park on the other side of the street to avoid having to pay. It was all meant to be a joke. The meters where put up on a Monday and taken away by Friday of the same week.

A prized possession and center of attention at the shop since 1960 was a beautiful 1896 St. Louis cash register. That cash register was still in use today. One of his daughters will inherit it after he passes on, he added.

Jerry grew up with his five brothers and three sisters in the Milwaukee area, where his father, John (who went by the name "Kapal" rather than Kapalczynski) had been a shoemaker and butcher before opening his barber shop in 1924.

Jerry's dad cut hair in Milwaukee until he reached the age of 90 and it was his father that helped him get started on his lifelong career as a barber.

Jerry started cutting hair in 1954 after graduating from Marquette University High School. He then attended barber school at Milwaukee Vocational School. Back then it took 1,248 hours plus a three-year apprentice program with one day per week at school to become a barber.

After completing the apprentice program, he went on to take the journeyman's exam. The journeyman was a one year course and upon successful completion Jerry was eligible to take the Master Barber's exam. He passed that exam in 1959, and it was then he decided to take a test to get his shop managers license, which would enable him to have a shop of his own. "Today, it is a lot easier to get licensed than it was years ago," he commented.

While going to school Jerry worked for his father for six years at Kapal's Barbershop on the northwest corner of Mitchell Street and Muskego Ave. in Milwaukee.

In 1956, Jerry married Clara, who now has been his wife for 64 years, and eventually they had six children - Dianne, Lorie, Chris, Roxanne, Vance and Valerie.

The newlyweds decided they would like to live in Crivitz some day, and Jerry's father told him about a lot for sale by Little Newton Lake west of Crivitz. They bought it for $500, which Jerry says was a rather large sum of money back then, and built a cottage there in about 1960.

Also in 1960, Jerry opened his own barber shop at 20th and Forest Home Avenue in Milwaukee. He worked long hours there until 1973, when the Beatles rock group and their long hair styes became popular. "Hair was worn so long that it put a crimp into barbering at that time," Jerry said. "People hardly even came in for haircuts any more."

However, as his father had once said of his own long-time barbering career: "We weren't rich, but we got by. Lots of soup and neck bones and sauerkraut."

Needing something else to help support his growing family, Jerry kept his shop closed during the morning hours and took a second job. He would open the shop around noon and cut hair until 6 p.m., go home to eat supper with the family, sleep till 9:30 p.m., and then go to work at Jaeger Bakery from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Following that shift, he would go home, eat breakfast, get a bit of sleep till 11:30 a.m., and then get back to cutting hair again, starting at noon. He kept up that schedule for almost a year to make sure Clara and the children were taken care of.

Then, later that year, Jerry, Clara and their children turned the cottage by Little Newton Lake into its full-time family home. He took a job for almost a year running Shaffer Lodge for John Shaffer.

Later he leased the Chuck Busick Barber Shop on Louisa Street, presently the home of the Iceberg Ice Cream Shop for almost three years.

In 1976 Jerry opened his own new barber shop in it's present location at 604 Main Street, which was the former Dr. Burby Dental office. He has now been cutting hair there for 44 years.

"Wish I'd put a dime away for every haircut I did...I could be a rich man today," Jerry remarked.

Back in 1954 in Milwaukee he had charged $1.25 for an adult cut and 75 cents for a child. Today he charges $10 for everyone.

On January 25, 1980 tragedy struck the family when their home on Little Newton Lake burned down. They lost everything.

"St. Mary Church in Crivitz held a fundraiser for our family," Jerry said. "It was a great success. The people in Crivitz really supported the event." Crivitz Feed Mill and Crivitz Lumber let him use a dump truck to clear the debris left after the fire. Bob Bizjak brought over a loader and bulldozer to help clear the lot. With the help of Ken Dama with plumbing and Willie Spices with electrical, the new home was roughed in by December of 1980 almost a year after the fire.

"The community really rallied for us," Jerry said. He proudly notes that daughter Roxanne even wrote a story about the fire that was published in the "New Leaves" writing lab booklet.

The story, headlined: "A Disastrous Fire Destroyed Our Home last Night," said:

"My father called Friday night. The tone of his voice told me something was wrong. "We had an accident here, Rox; the house burnt down. No one was hurt but the house is completely gone.'

"My first reaction was to go home to help out in any way possible. Dad told me not to; he said there was nothing we could do just yet. I understood but felt helpless; I felt my family needed my support. After I hung up the phone I sat on my bed and cried. I closed my eyes and tried to picture how our once beautiful lakeside home now looked. Were the walls still standing; could you make out what anything was?

"After I calmed down a bit I decided to call my sister Chris, a junior at La Crosse. She answered the phone and immediately broke down in tears. I could sense her shaking voice as she explained that Dad had just called her. I then knew I had to be one of the reassuring individuals in the family. Chris kept repeating, "Why us, what have we done to deserve this tragedy?' I gathered up all of my feelings and emotions and prayed God would give me the strength and courage to help hold the family together. I talked to Chris for a short while, and then to her roommate Judy. I said I'd call back in the morning when things had quieted down a little more. I decided to go straight to bed and hoped everything would seem better the next day.

"In the morning, my three sisters, Dianne, Lorie, and Chris called. Every time I got a phone call I found out more and more about the fire. I wanted to talk to my mother but everyone thought it was best not to; for a few days, at least.

"Chris and I decided to go home the next weekend to help clean up. She came to pick me up Thursday about noon. We talked and tried to prepare ourselves for what we were about to see. At 3:15 p.m. we arrived in Crivitz, just in time to pick up my brother and sister, Vance and Valerie, from school. Chris and I caught ourselves looking for their usual winter coats which we were so used to seeing them wear, but which had been destroyed in the fire. It was a strange feeling. We walked towards the buses searching for theirs. We finally found it, got on and looked for Vance and Valerie. We all saw each other at the same time. They grabbed their books and ran towards the front of the bus. No one said a word as we hugged each other. As we walked towards the car, Vance said, "Did you see the house yet? It's really bad."

"Our second stop was dad's Barber Shop. He tried to explain the house to us, or rather, what was left of it. He told us not to expect much at all. We left the shop and headed for my sister, Dianne's house. We picked her up and drove to Lorie's house, where my family had been staying. Mom was standing by the door as we pulled in the driveway. We could see her red face as we got closer. She looked very tired. We stood in the doorway and hugged each other. The hug lasted for several minutes although it seemed longer-so much emotion passed between us-emotion which we couldn't find words to express. Finally, my Mom broke the silence. She said, "Well, should we go over to the house?"

"We drove down the road. My hands were shaking as I put the car into park at the top of the driveway. It was blocked off so we couldn't drive down. We all got out of the car and started walking towards the house.

"The sight was unreal. As we walked through the melted ashy mess, thoughts of the house before the fire flashed through my mind. I walked over to where our living room had been. I couldn't make anything out. I looked around for some sign of our pool table or table tennis table, which we had just received for Christmas. I walked further and saw the remains of a humidifier that we'd had for years. I fought back my emotions the whole time I observed the house.

"I walked up towards the far end of the house. The cottage part of the house is what my parents had built almost twenty-five years ago. There were walls that were still standing but everything was badly damaged by smoke. I walked through the shattered glass and into my room. I opened the blackened closet door and saw my guitar case, given to me by my father when I first started playing. I hesitated, then opened the case, not knowing what I'd find. There I saw it! The neck crumbled as I lifted it out of the case. Tears came to my eyes. I felt as though my father would be very disappointed.

"The guitar was not completely ruined so I decided to see if it could be fixed. I never really used the guitar since I had gotten my new one, but now I wanted to see my other guitar and put the money from it into fixing my old one. It has a lot of sentimental value. I closed the case and took it out of the house. I walked towards the car where Chris and My mother were waiting. The only thing my mother said was, "Not what you expected, hey?" No it wasn't at all, although I had no idea what to expect.

"It's really strange, you never know how much people care until you lose something you've loved. The church my family belongs to, St. Mary's Parish, set up a benefit dinner for our family. People donated food and money for this dinner and there was a fantastic turnout. There have been many people opening their homes for us, too.

"Friday, January 25, 1980, was an unforgettable night. My family took an incredible loss. But, everything is coming along fine now. We're planning on staying in a trailer until we can rebuild this summer. Everyone has been just terrific-friends, relatives, and family members," the story concluded.

Jerry is now retired, but the family tradition of hair care continues. Three of Jerry's family members work as stylists. His daughter Lorie Baranek, is a stylist in Crivitz along with her daughter Sara Kostreva and another of Jerry children, Valerie, is a stylist in Florida.

Jerry stated he always knew he wanted to be a barber, and it's been a great career. "I enjoyed what I did. There is nothing worse that going to work every day and hating your job. I enjoy people. They are my customers and more importantly my friends. I just want to thank all my customers and friends, past and present, who came to my shop. It has been truly a pleasure to serve you over the years."


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