Our town: Barber watched Belleville grow, change

News-DemocratApril 12, 2014 

— EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS ONE IN A SERIES OF OUR TOWN PROFILES CELEBRATING BELLEVILLE'S BICENTENNIAL.

Jerome "Jin" Frerker spent more than five decades giving men haircuts and watching the city grow.

Though the hairstyles didn't change much -- traditional cut or flattop -- much of the city he calls home did.

"I do think downtown Belleville looks nice," said Frerker, 82, who operated a barber shop at 1021 N. 17th St. for 35 years. "It looks twice as nice as it did when I came here."

He served in the Navy from 1950-54 and that's where he learned to cut hair. After that, he served an apprenticeship, which brought the Germantown native to Belleville.

Before his shop was attached to his family home, Frerker worked at a barber shop downtown on South Illinois Street, across from the Townhouse Motel, and another at 3028 W. Main St.

While Frerker thinks downtown has improved, he misses some of the old ways of life.

"I miss the smell of bread baking at Feickert's Bakery," he said.

Another thing that has changed around Belleville: Payphones. Frerker said he used to always take a quarter while he was taking a stroll. Now, he wouldn't know where to find a payphone if he needed one. So he no longer takes a quarter while walking.

But he now enjoys walks on the MetroLink trails, a relatively new improvement to the city. "I like it. I walk it everyday."

When Frerker started giving haircuts in Belleville in 1954, a haircut cost $1.25 and a haircut and straight razor shave cost $2.50.

By the 1970s, the shave became outdated. Fewer and fewer people asked for it. "After a while you lose your touch," he said.

When he retired in 2006, a haircut cost $11. (Today, a men's haircut can cost $15 or more.)

Tips increased as the prices went up. "The more money they make, the more you get. ... It doesn't go as long though," he said with a chuckle.

Frerker, who had a rule never to talk about politics or religion with clients, cut the hair of many politicians and even a bishop.

Former Mayor Rich Brauer, who lead Belleville from 1979-93, received "just a regular haircut" from Frerker.

"He was a great guy," Frerker said of Brauer, who died in 2004. "He believed in Belleville."

Frerker also cut the hair of Bishop Roger Kaffer, auxiliary bishop of the Joliet Diocese. The Catholic leader was in town because his brother lived in Belleville.

In addition, he cut the hair of firefighters and "a lot of policemen."

His clientele also consisted of lots of Stag Brewery employees.

"I was weaned on Stag beer, by the way," he said with a laugh.

Even though the industry in the city changed, Frerker said his customers remained the "working man."

Eventually, he cut the hair of those clients' children.

When Frerker worked on Illinois Street, he saw John F. Kennedy drive by when he stopped in Belleville during a campaign swing in 1960. "I waved at him," he said.

A few years later, he was cutting hair the day the 35th president of the United States was assassinated. He turned on the small television he kept in his shop and listened to Charlotte Peters on KTVI, Channel 2.

"Man, it was a shock," he said.

"Nobody was talking (in the shop). I even said a Hail Mary for the guy. I thought maybe he could pull through," he said. "It was silent the rest of the day."

Frerker later built his barber shop adjacent to his home, which allowed him to help raise his five children with his wife, Betty.

They now have seven grandchildren, most of whom are still in the area.

Even though the city has changed, Frerker said he's not planning to go anywhere.

"I like the city of Belleville," he said. "My kids got a good education. They're all doing well."

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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