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Rollen Coomer: Popular Columbian retires after 50 years as barber
Will devote more time to serious activities of golf and farming
By Ed Waggener
Photo accompanies this story
Rollen Coomer has retired from his main professional calling.
One of Columbia's most popular businessmen has hung up his scissors and shearers. He's laid down his combs, brushes and razors. After 50 years as a barber, he's moving on to other, very serious, endeavors .
"I'll be devoting my main time to golf and farming," he says.
And he'll have a little more time for discussions of the Great Issues at Circle R breakfasts.
Mr. Coomer began his career 50 years ago, in 1955 in Mannheim, Germany. He was a tank commander in the Army, and an outstanding spit-and-polish soldier. In his off-time, he cut hair for his Army buddies.
When he came home from the service in 1957, he married Myrna Loy, the Fairplay, Kentucky, beauty-with-brains who had been salutatorian of her Adair County High School graduating class.
Though they had grown up just a few miles apart, he was from south of Fairplay and she grew up nearer to Gadberry, north of Fairplay, they actually met in town, at the Columbian Theater, he remembers. For her, it was a little different. "I knew him. He didn't know me. We lived just off 704 and we got to know all the cars and the families who passed our house from south of us on their way to town," she said.
The same year they were married, Rollen Coomer entered Chicago Barber College, aided by GI Bill stipends.
In 1958, he completed barber school. He had earned his diploma and qualified for an Illinois Barber license. He went to work for the Howard Cole Barber Shop in Chicago. Mr. Cole, the owner, was from Adair County, as were many of the shop's patrons.
The Coomers' only child, Greg, was born in Chicago.
Left Chicago for Columbia and the Hotel Barber Shop in 1959
The Coomers came back to Columbia in August of 1959. Rollen Coomer bought a one-third interest in the Hotel Barber Shop, becoming a partner of the Fudge Brothers, Johnny and Gilliam. Prices back then were $1 for adult haircuts, 75 for kids, and the newly popular and harder-to-get-right flat-top was $1.25.He doesn't claim to having brought the flat-top style to Columbia. "I just perfected it," he says. A flat-top is a cut which isn't seen so often now. It was popularized nationally by actor Bob Cummings, who played the starring role of a photographer on "The Bob Cummings Show."
Even as many as five or six years earler Adair County High baseball star Jim Richards and basketball standout Terry Randall had adopted the flattop. Since the flat-top was introduced in Columbia, at least one business leader, Grover Cleveland Gilpin of Happy Chandler, G&M Grill, and Holstein fame, has worn it perfectly and exclusively. The only barber he relied on to reach flat-top perfection was Rollen Coomer.
Mr. Coomer stayed at the Hotel Barber Shop for 10 years. He sold his interest to the Fudge Brothers, then bought a one-third interest in the Scott Barber Shop, on the Columbia Public Square, from Travis Scott. At the same time, his wife's double-cousin, Bobby Dean Loy, bought a one-third interest as well. He remained at this shop until his retirement the last working day of July, 2005.
Rollen Coomer was always an innovator
He added wig-fitting to his skills. Many a comb-over was abandoned for a wig from Town Barber Shop in those days. Rollen Coomer, himself, sported a wig for a time. It was good for business, he recalls. That was before he embraced the macho Yul Brynner shaved scalp style, the fashion he favors today.
As the other two barbers retired, he bought their interests. He was sole owner when he, in turn, sold Town Barber Shop to a former competitor, prominent barber and political leader Wid Harris, in 2003, but continued to work for him until his retirement last week. Mr. Harris continues to own and operate the shop.
He has worked alongside some of Columbia's great barbers
Through the years he's worked with many of the greats in Columbia's barbering history. Besides the Fudges, he's cut hair alongside Everett Smith, Travis Scott, Bobby Dean Loy, Bobby Wayne Willis, Wid Harris, and, most recently, the popular new woman barber, Kim Woodcock, who recently joined the staff at Town Barber Shop.
The monetary rewards got better over the years. The last haircuts Rollen Coomer gave were $9.00 each. Tipping has become more common in Columbia than it was in the pioneer days of the 50s, making the profession much more comfortable in recent times.
Would he recommend the profession to others? The answer is "Yes," he says, "if you don't want to get rich, if you just want to make a comfortable living, and you want to make a lot of friends. If those are your goals, it's a good business to be in" he said. "I've made a comfortable living, but what I really liked about it was all the wonderful people I got to meet."
"That was the really good part," he said, "all the people I was able to meet. And I want to thank all them for their business--for the patronage my customers gave me for so many years."
Son went into printing business
Mr. Coomer's own son Greg is in the printing business, and never showed a great deal of interest in following his father's profession. Greg and his wife Joyce own and operate Printing Creations, a thriving business in downtown Columbia.
Rollen and Myrna Coomer and their six-year-old Maltese Terrier, Boomer Coomer live in a beautiful new home on the crest of Butterp'int Ridge on Loy Cemetery Road off KY 704 just a few miles from his birthplace on Walnut Grove Road.
Mrs. Coomer is retired after long career, from 1981 to 2003, at the Bank of Columbia.
The Coomer's new home is a place which offers great vistas of a quickly changing Adair County farmscape. It's just a couple of miles from the present Columbia city limits and very close to relatives and the famiies' roots.
This story was posted on 2005-08-04 12:15:57
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