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Barbers ready to make their final cuts
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Barbers Gay Swenson, front, and Mort Wittwer, take a little off the top and side for regular customers Tuesday at Swensons Barber Shop on 16th Avenue just south of the Square in Monroe. The partners have more than 100 years of barbering experience combined. They will retire together Dec. 31.
MONROE - December will be the last chance for customers of Swenson's Appointment Barber Shop, some of whom have been coming for 40 years.

On Tuesday, a steady line of men strolled into Swenson's Appointment Barber Shop to get a hair cut Tuesday morning, to get their opportunity for at least one last cut, as Gay Swenson and Mort Wittwer close up shop and retire Dec. 31.

They have over 100 years of barbering experience combined.

Swenson, turning 82 next month, said he's retiring because Wittwer, 69, is retiring.

Wittwer said he's retiring because his wife, Bonnie, just recently retired after 32 years with Wisconsin Community Bank.

Swenson came to Monroe in 1957 to work for Walter Day, who advertised for a partner in his barber shop on the Square. Wittwer worked with him in the same shop before striking out on his own.

When a new landlord took over the building and raised his rent, Wittwer said he and Swenson "hooked up together."

"When Walt died, I bought the business - that was in ... '64, I think," said Wittwer.

Swenson started cutting hair when he was in the military.

"Didn't have any training," he said Tuesday, as he finished up Bruce Meier's trim. "But I did a better job than most of them."

Swenson can't remember trimming the hair on the head of anyone famous.

"But he knows his customers when they call, just by the sound of their voice," Meier said.

And they never have to tell Swenson how they want their hair cut.

Swenson has been cutting Meier's hair since the early 1960s, even during the long-hair fashion at the time.

"I was a kid, so I had to get my hair cut," Meier said, on orders from his parents' orders.

Wittwer started cutting hair when he was 19. This is his 50th year in the business, 30 years of it on the Square and 20 years just south of it on 16th Avenue.

As Wittwer trimmed up the sides of his hair, Gottlieb Brandli Sr. said he has been coming to Wittwer's chair for over 20 years.

"No, it's got to be longer than that," Wittwer told him. "You were coming when we were still on the Square."

Brandli looked surprised.

Swenson and Wittwer both attended the same barber college in Chicago. Swenson was there in 1956.

"That was quite an education. We practiced on the drunks on the street," Swenson said.

"When you started, they put you in the back, where haircuts were free. As you got better, you moved up front, where they charged 50 cents for a hair cut. But we didn't see any of that money," he said.

Since 1957, the cost of a hair cut has increased ten-fold, from one dollar to ten dollars, but the time it takes is still only 10 minutes.

"It's still the cheapest place in town for a haircut," said Richard Wunschel, Monroe.

Nobody will probably be taking up business in the old shop, said Swenson.

The shop is sparsely decorated- a Green Bay Packer sign, a framed reprint of deer leaping though the wilderness, a large depiction of a straight razor, a clock. But the room is warm and cozy, and each customer's hair falls on the floor - it'll get swept up at the end of the day, if not before.

Wittwer's retirement plans include taking a rest this winter and then taking off in the camper or playing golf.

"Maybe both," he said.

Swanson intends to spend some time with his wife, Jane, who put him through barber school so many years ago. Keeping the weeds down on their 40-acre farm will keep him busy, too.

"I'll keep making some house calls for shut-in guys," he added.

And where will their customers go after so many years?

"I don't know," said Dieneman. "Decisions, decision."