Barber closes shop, retires scissors after 60 years

Fred Baade cutting former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut’s hair. (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

Fred Baade cutting former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut’s hair. (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

By Mark Ambrogi

Fred Baade learned how to cut hair at age 14 in Germany near the end of World War II.

“Hitler was still in charge when I started cutting hair,” Baade said.

There wasn’t much choice for Baade in his town of Kiel.

“We didn’t have as much schooling as others,” Baade said. “We were bombed and shot at a lot.”

Baade said some jobs available to him other than barber would be a tailor or a hotel clerk. Baade was born in Milwaukee and then his parents moved to Indianapolis. But his parents moved back to their native Germany in 1934. Baade and his sister were U.S. citizens. In 1951, Baade saw in the newspaper that he had a chance to return to the U.S. since he was born there.

“You had to be under 21 to save your citizenship,” Baade said. “I had an American passport. When I told my dad, he said your mom won’t let you. I said ‘Well, who stopped her?’ I kept working on her to let me. I said ‘Mom if I don’t like it over there I can come back. I just have to work hard to get the money.’”

Although he didn’t speak any English, Baade returned to Indianapolis and started cutting hair at Fort Harrison. With the help of Army sergeant who knew German, he began to learn English. He has been an Indianapolis barber ever since.

Baade, who turned 85 on Jan. 5, closed his Indianapolis shop in the St.Vincent’s Professional Office Building (8402 Harcourt Rd.) in late December. He had been there more than 39 years, opening on Nov. 25, 1975.

“Things are slow and business isn’t that good,” said Baade, a Carmel resident for more than 48 years. “I have mixed emotions.”

Baade owned a five-chair barber shop at Kessler and College, but doctors, including his friend, Dr. Charlie Van Tassel, convinced him to move farther north to the Professional Building. He finally agreed but it took him some time to sell his shop.

“The fact that he is still looking for work because he enjoys it so much is a testament to his work ethic and character,” said his daughter-in-law Kelly Baade.

Kelly is married to Erik, the only child of Fred and Herta, who have been married for 54 years.

“He loves people,” said 53-year-old Erik, a Westfield resident. “He always said he couldn’t retire because he couldn’t stand being at home and sitting still.”

Kelly said Fred and Herta, 79, both seem ageless to her.

“I have to remind myself sometimes of their age,” Kelly said. “Fred likes to smile and wink and say ‘I’m only 42!’”

Baade, who will likely find a place to donate his barber’s chair, mirror and other fixtures, said he enjoys visiting with people.

“I like my work,” he said. “I never complained about my work. A lot of people complain about their work. I always say, ‘Well, get out and do something you like.’”

Many of his customers have been coming to him for years, including former Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut, who first came to see Baade before his first inauguration as mayor in 1976.  It was the first of 82-year-old Hudnut’s four terms. Hudnut, who lives in Washington, D.C., area with his wife Beverly, came to see Baade on Dec. 12, two days before his statue was unveiled at Hudnut Commons.

Hudnut was introduced to Baade’s shop by Mayflower CEO and chairman Johnny B. Smith, a mutual friend and Baade’s customer.

“I love to come in and hear Fred’s stories and talk to him about the old days,” said Hudnut, who makes sure to visit whenever he is in town.  “Fred is so kind to have the picture of our son’s first hair cut on his wall. He’s 22 now.”