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Earl Whitehead, Waukegan barber for 60 years, dies

Earl Whitehead North Chicago who barbered for more than 60 years including nearly 52 years his own shop bright blue

Earl Whitehead of North Chicago, who barbered for more than 60 years, including nearly 52 years at his own shop, a bright blue building at 712 S. Genesee St. in Waukegan, died Monday from complications of a stroke. He was 85. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:36AM



WAUKEGAN — The proprietor of Lake County’s oldest black-owned barbershop is dead.

Earl Whitehead of North Chicago, who barbered for more than 60 years, including nearly 52 years at his own shop, a bright blue building at 712 S. Genesee St. in Waukegan, died Monday from complications of a stroke. He was 85.

“I couldn’t have picked a better father,” said Renee Whitehead of Waukegan, his daughter, who cut hair alongside her dad for more than 24 years and who on Tuesday, welcomed a stream of condolence-givers to the barbershop she will keep running.

Whitehead, a native of Marion, Ala., moved to the North Chicago/Waukegan area in 1947 and barbered for a brother’s shop for nine years before working a chair at the shop on Genesee Street, which he bought in 1961.

An ordained minister, Whitehead served as assistant pastor of Rehoboth Church in Waukegan. He was particularly proud of an honorary street sign declaring “Rev. Earl Whitehead,” installed by the city on the street running alongside his shop.

Whitehead grew up helping his father farm 40 acres of cotton, corn, peanuts, beans and peas, and working in sawmills. He attended farm demonstration courses at Tuskegee Institute where he met George Washington Carver, earned a $50 U.S. Savings Bond for raising an 800-pound hog and “blew harmonica” in front of 3,000 people during Baccalaureate.

Raised in the Church of God in Christ, he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, but still served as an unarmed medic assigned to an Army hospital in southern Japan.

For more than 30 years of his barbering career, Whitehead also worked at full-time factory jobs — at Johns-Manville in Waukegan and North Chicago Refiners and Smelters — to help support his family and his business.

In addition to his daughter, Whitehead is survived by three sons, James of Waukegan, Jeffrey of Madison, Wis., and Keith of Vernon Hills. He is also survived by LaVerne Whitehead, his wife of 57 years.

Whitehead, who was known for his wise counsel and gentle sense of humor by all who came and sat in his chair for a cut or a shave, was fond of quoting an old gospel song: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road. And be a friend to man.”

“He didn’t end up with a house on the side of the road, but with a business on the side of the road,” Renee Whitehead said. “He wanted to keep giving. He would want us to carry on.”



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