- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Vigo County Judge Michael Lewis had planned to get his hair cut next week.

Now, Lewis said, he’ll have to rely on his longtime barber, Joseph E. Korenski, to recommend a new place.

Health issues have forced the 69-year-old Korenski to shutter his long-established “Joe’s Hair Center” near the corner of Wabash Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown Terre Haute.

Korenski has been cutting hair since 1965 and doing it at that spot since 1977.

“He is a throwback barber,” Lewis said. “I knew my haircut was going to be the same every time, not any change to it. Joe would cut your hair however you wanted,” Lewis said.

Cutting hair for more than 50 years has brought many memories, Korenski said.

“I once cut Larry Bird’s hair,” Korenski said of the former Indiana State University basketball standout, NBA star, NBA coach and former Indiana Pacers official. “He said he just wanted a little bit off the ends and a shampoo,” Korenski said.

“I wish I had taken more pictures back then,” he added. “Back in those days, in the late 1970s, (former Indiana State University and Olympic gymnast) Kurt Thomas used to get his hair cut every week. Bruce Baumgartner, (former ISU and Olympic medalist in wrestling) did, too. He liked his cut short in the front. Bruce was a great guy,” he said.

The horseshoe

Perhaps his fondest memory comes from a 1990s basketball team at Terre Haute North Vigo High School.

“I cut all 12 members of that team, which included Jimmy Cruse and Greg Higham, on a Saturday morning, before they played (a sectional championship) game that night. It was the horseshoe cut,” Korenski said.

“It was like a flat-top cut, but it left hair (in the shape) like a horseshoe. I could do that cut with my eyes closed,” Korenski said. “When (the players) walked out onto the floor, you couldn’t tell who was who because they all looked the same. Parents couldn’t even recognize them, except from their names on their jerseys. (North) Coach Jim Jones walked in and walked away. He was speechless,” Korenski said with a chuckle.

The cut was done just prior to a 1993 basketball sectional championship against Terre Haute South Vigo High School.

“It had a little stripe down the middle,” said Cruse, a 1993 graduate of Terre Haute North Vigo High School. “After he cut our team, you would see all kinds of people get the same haircut,” Cruse said.

“We came back and won that game, which I think was played at Hulman Center. I kept that hair cut all the way through college, at least five years,” said Cruz, now an Indiana State Police officer and currently assigned to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s security detail.

“I have been going to Joe since high school. We kept a good relationship, and I try to go there once every week. He is like a second father to me,” Cruse said.

Higham, also a 1993 graduate of Terre Haute North, said he and Cruse already had the horseshoe haircut earlier that season.

“Part of the deal was the rest of the team had to get it before the sectional,” said Higham, a teacher at Terre Haute North.

“I have been going back to Joe ever since. I actually have been the one to cut his hair. He says he is busy and then asks if I have time to trim him up,” Higham said. “I have been going to him for 26 years. Eight of my family members go there, too.

“Now the dilemma is where will I get a haircut?” Higham said.

Korenski said he still remembers that North basketball team being down in the third quarter of the game.

“All I could think about is people saying ‘South scalps North,” because of my haircut. But North came back and really saved my day,” he said. “Best game I ever saw.”

A healthy decision

Korenski said he didn’t want to close his downtown barber shop, but his health forced the decision.

“I had a heart attack on Mother’s Day,” Korenski said. “I had 99 percent blockage on the left side and they put in a stent,” he said.

He returns to doctors later this month (in June) to prepare to possibly have a second stent on the other side of his heart.

Lewis said he considers Korenski a good friend.

“Joe is just open and honest. I would go to him to find out what is going on around town,” Lewis said. “He did a real good job and had a very fair price, at $5. I gave him $10 every time.”

Korenski still remembers his first haircut. It was Sept. 10, 1965, while in a barbering school in Indianapolis.

“I was 18,” Korenski said. “I went to work, after graduating, in May 1966 for Phil McCowen.”

His initial barbering career was short lived, thanks to Uncle Sam. A draft notice was mailed Dec. 27, 1966. By early January, he was off to basic training in the U.S. Army.

“I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for basic training. I then got a four-day leave. I didn’t get another leave,” he said, as he trained 10 months in Hawaii and then boarded a ship to Vietnam. “I got on a troop carrier with an M-60 (machine gun) and a .45 caliber (handgun),” he said.

He later received an Army commendation medal, combat infantry badge and Vietnam service medal with two stars. Many mementos of those day are displayed on the walls of his shop, which looks like it hadn’t changed much since the 1970s.

Back home

After his military service, Korenski started to work at the Orpheum Barber Shop in late 1968.

Korenski later partnered with Billie D. Roan to open their own shop, the Orpheum 2 Barber Shop in 1975. He would buy out his partner, starting his shop where he cut hair for nearly 40 years.

In some families, his haircuts were tradition.

“He has been cutting my hair since high school. My dad took me to him,” said Mike Ciolli, a former federal prison warden, former county commissioner and now a county surveyor. “My brother went to him, and I took my sons to him,” Ciolli said. “I even took my grandson to him earlier this year, when he was about 10 months old, for his first haircut.”

Ciolli described Korenski as the downtown grapevine.

“He knew everything that was going on it town. He would always talk about sports, too,” Ciolli said.

Korenski said he got tidbits from his customers.

“You take one third (of a story) from this side and one third from another side, and the last third you would try to put it together. I tried to break down a story I heard from one end to the other,” he said.

“I’m going miss it all — so many good people,” Korenski said. “All the hair I have cut and the conversations I have had with real good people. It has been amazing.”

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/2qKnLgT

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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