RACINE, Wis. — His hair is snow white and his step is a little more labored nearly 61 years after Frank Catrine gave his first haircut on the corner of Main and High streets.
So much has changed outside his place of business, Catrine's Barber Shop, and the aging gentleman is reminded of that whenever he takes a break, looks west and remembers what used to be.
The Baskin-Robbins ice cream place directly across the street has been gone for years. The same goes for the Homer Dary pharmacy with that fantastic lunch counter on the northwest corner of Main and High. And Prince's Pastries just around the corner on High Street is also ancient history.
Time stops for absolutely no one. But after six decades, Catrine has done his best to keep pace. After all these years, he's still handling customers with his middle son, John Catrine, just as he did when he started with his late mentor, Frank Porcaro, as a 19-year-old novice one year out of Horlick High School in April 1957.
And even after turning 80 last October, Catrine has no plans to hang up his clippers and just enjoy the rest of his life with Nancy Catrine, his wife of nearly 56 years. He has no plans to simply hang out at the Racine Yacht Club (Catrine used to own a 25-foot sailboat) or the Roma Lodge, both of which he joined at the age of 21.
Why would he? After all, cutting hair and then sweeping it away after another honest day's work is his life.
"I love what I'm doing," Catrine told The Journal Times . "I figure that as long as I'm working, I'm healthy. That's one of the reasons why I'm as healthy as I am. I can still stand and stay all day at this chair if I want. I just enjoy it."
The Guinness Book of World Records lists Thomas Stoddard of Wimington, Delaware, for working the longest at one place at 80 years. Stoddard started at the Speakman Co. as a mailboy in 1928 and retired as a member of the Board of Directors in 2008.
While it's probably unrealistic to think Catrine will make a run at that record by still cutting hair when he's 100, don't rule it out. Aside from being a mild diabetic, Catrine is healthy and claims he never missed a day of work because of illness until an infection kept him out of his shop for a week last year. In fact, it wasn't that long ago when he was still riding a moped to his business from his William Street home.
"I just don't get sick," he said. "If it's a work day, I'm here. I enjoy coming to work and I enjoy the people I meet and I hope they enjoy my company."
Even when the worst blizzards have gripped Racine, Catrine has managed to be open for business — with just one exception that he can recall.
"I put boots on and I started to walk," he said. "But the snow was so deep that I just turned around and went home. I was not even a block away and, finally, I said, 'I can't do this.' I think that's one of the few days I actually missed because of a big snowstorm."
Talk to Catrine about the Packers while he's cutting your hair. He used to be a season ticket holder. Ask him about anything but religion or politics.
"Religion and politics don't mix because you don't know who is sitting in the next chair," he said. "It's not the place for politics."
It started for Catrine at the corner the same month the Milwaukee Braves of Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews opened a 1957 season that culminated with the World Series championship that October. That barber shop was located several feet north prior to a remodeling and Catrine was an upstart who worked alongside Porcaro, who owned the business.
But by the time he joined Porcaro, Catrine was already a relatively experienced clipper. He used to shine shoes in a barber shop as a kid and recalls his first job was in a pinch.
"I was 12 or 13 years old and I was watching them cut hair," Catrine said. "One day, a guy came in when it was very busy and said, 'Hey, kid, come on and cut my hair. You've got to learn to cut hair some time.' So someone came over and showed me how to taper a little."
Catrine started cutting the hair of his grandfather and others here and there and a lifelong barber was in the making.
Porcaro and Catrine were the mainstays among several other barbers as the 1950s made was for the '60s and then the '70s. Catrine still uses the three barber chairs that Porcaro purchased in 1964.
When heart trouble forced Porcaro to step away, Catrine eventually bought the business. He can't recall when that was, but a Racine City Directory lists a Frank Catrine Barber Shop on North Main Street for the first time in 1974.
Just as Porcaro did in the 1950s, Catrine rents his barber shop from the Bolton family. It was the late Lee Bolton, longtime owner of Lee's Flowers on that corner, for most of the last 60 years. Catrine now rents from Bolton's son, Jon.
But while much has stayed the same, so much has changed. Catrine is reminded of that every time he looks out the window. And it's painful.
"This corner was a fantastic corner," he said. "The Homer Dary Pharmacy, Prince's bakery, there was a dry cleaner on the corner; we had a reason for a lot of people coming to this corner. They would go there and then come here. It was a great corner."
A great barber shop continues to breathe life into this corner. Frank Catrine's burden has been eased by John Catrine taking on the paperwork and other details.
Does he still have another 10 years at this corner?
"As long as my legs are strong, I'll make it," he said.
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Times.