- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - For the last 52 years, Inge Bentjen has cut hair for dozens of prominent Dallasites - from the late Rev. W.A. Criswell of Dallas’ First Baptist Church to former Vice President Dick Cheney, while he was working at Halliburton.

On Friday, she plans to close the doors of Inge’s Barber Shop in downtown Dallas for good.

She credits customer Jim Lowe, a Dallas radio personality who worked for WRR from 1950-74, for bringing in many customers.

“That’s how lots of them came. He talked about me (on the radio). He always called me Inge baby,” Bentjen remembers with a chuckle.

The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/1mA7pWo ) reports Bentjen said health problems led to her decision to retire.

About five years ago, she passed out and fell while working in the shop on Patterson Street between North Akard and North Ervay streets. She said she’s never fully recovered from the accident, suffering from chronic back and shoulder pains.

“I can barely raise my arms,” she said. “I have some tall customers and they say, ‘If you can’t raise your arms, we’ll sit on the floor.’”

Bentjen isn’t keen on making a fuss about her retirement. For her, it’s not a milestone to celebrate.

“They want to make a party for me and all that. I say, ‘It’s not really a party, closing,’” she said. “It’s hard on me, I don’t want to say goodbye.”

Bentjen learned barbering during a three-year apprenticeship with a class of other women in Germany shortly after World War II. It was a welcome alternative to working in a factory, she said.

“I never had any interest in fixing hair, but I learned it and I liked it,” Bentjen said.

After marrying a member of the U.S. Air Force, she moved to America in 1954.

She leased space for her first shop off Ervay Street in the early 1960s. She moved around the corner to her current spot at 1606 Patterson St., leasing from the First Baptist Church in 1990.

In a Dallas Morning News article dated July 31, 1958, a 27-year-old Bentjen described the reactions she got being a woman barber.

“They rarely get fresh,” Bentjen said of her male customers in the article. “They can’t afford to; I’ve got the razor and scissors.”

Another News article on Jan. 12, 1969, said Bentjen averaged about 20 to 25 shaves a day.

Bentjen said business has slowed through the years. She’s altered her hours to accommodate that, now only working Tuesday through Thursday except this Friday when she planned to open to serve her final customers.

“Everybody wants to come in at the last minute,” Bentjen said.

Like many other customers, Dallas banker Jim Erwin used to walk over for a haircut when he worked downtown. When his business moved to North Dallas, he still made the drive.

As cars and pedestrians passed by her shop on a recent morning, Bentjen was busy working away.

“Jim, I left it longer than you wanted it,” Bentjen says to Erwin.

After a neck shave, she gently smooths down his hair with a comb and hands him a mirror to take a look.

“Looks good to me,” Erwin says. “Don’t think you can do any better with what you have.”

A sign above the antique cash register reads: “Welcome to the friendliest place in town.”

Cosmetologist Lydia Benun, who has rented a chair at Inge’s Barber Shop for 10 years, said she can attest to the sign’s authenticity.

She said Bentjen can’t see someone hurting without doing what she can to help, whether that’s offering a sandwich, a sum of money or giving her a break on rent.

“She’s the best, (most) good-hearted person that I’ve ever known in my life,” Benun said.

Bentjen considers the customers and co-workers of her downtown Dallas barbershop members of her family.

“I don’t like them, I love them,” she said.

She regularly gives out boxes of German cookies or chocolate. For Christmas, she passes out Advent calendars to customers with children or grandchildren.

“It costs me lots of money, but I’m not going to tell them,” Bentjen said.

She’s also been known to visit customers in the hospital. When an accident sent Dallas lawyer and former Fairview Mayor Sim Israeloff to the hospital two years ago, Bentjen showed up in his room with her scissors and a box of cookies.

“Sure enough Inge came and cut my hair in the hospital - wouldn’t even let us pay her for that particular haircut,” Israeloff said.

During his last cut before the shop’s closing, Israeloff had something to give Bentjen.

It was a certificate of Special Recognition from the city of Dallas signed by Mayor Mike Rawlings.

“She was in tears . it was so wonderful. A good way to cap off a more than 30-year connection,” Israeloff said.

As Bentjen flips through a photo album in her shop, she recalls more clients such as former Dallas Cowboys kicker Toni Fritsch and her late shoeshiner, Freeman Fleming, who worked for her for 30 years.

It’s the people she’ll miss most in retirement, she said.

Between the old customers and employees are photos of her family, friends and other reminders of her life back in Germany. The crème- and black-floral-patterned album never leaves her side.

“It’s a lot of memories, you know. I just always carry them with me,” Bentjen said.

___

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com


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