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The Dash Between: Lorain barber offered haircuts, political opinions

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For more than 40 years, Tom Kuns offered haircuts, gardening advice and political opinions to clients at Tom’s Barber Shop on Eighth Street near Broadway in Lorain.

“In the last 20 or 25 years, he’s been very into politics,” said his wife, Peggy. “He’d have a topic of the day. Everybody who came in had to give their opinion on the topic of the day.”

Tom, who formulated his strong political views by watching television news reports and listening to pundits on CNN, died of a heart attack Jan. 2, 2010, at age 68.

Retired Catholic Bishop A. James Quinn, who often sat in Tom’s chair, called him “the Democratic Rush Limbaugh” during the wake at Gluvna-Shimo-Hromada Funeral Chapel.

Some of Tom’s other clients expressed their memories of the opinionated barber in online condolences on the funeral home’s Web site.

“My haircut usually took 15 minutes, and the BS lasted much longer,” longtime customer Jim Gornek wrote. “It was always an exciting hour or so discussing the world’s problems.”

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates: The life that a person lived.

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas. Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between Dec. 20, 1941, when Tom Kuns was born in Sandusky, and Jan. 2, 2010, when the Lorain barber died at home of a heart attack at age 68.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Read more:

Tom’s mother sparked his interest in barbering and set career paths for all her children, while they were growing up in Clyde in Sandusky County. Tom’s father worked at Clyde Porcelain Steel, which later became a Whirlpool plant.

“His mother didn’t want any of her kids to work at Whirlpool,” Tom’s wife said. “She had picked his brother Dick to be a barber. When Dick became an upholsterer, Tom picked up the banner and became the barber.”

Tom was born Thomas Dale Kuns on Dec. 20, 1941, in Sandusky, the fifth of eight siblings.

As a youngster, he played sandlot baseball, fished and went “to Stoke’s Pond to swim and blow up fish with silver keg bombs,” his brother Gary said.

Before graduating from Clyde High School in 1960, Tom worked at Hurd’s Grocery in downtown Clyde.

“His 50 cents per hour paycheck was often consumed by charges for milk, bread and other items needed for the family,” his brother said.

In the early 1960s, Tom met Peggy Collins, graduated from Toledo Barber College and joined the Ohio National Guard.

He and Peggy were married on Aug. 21, 1965, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bellevue, the city located where Erie, Huron, Sandusky and Seneca counties converge. They raised three daughters: Anne Cisar, Katie Gergely and Barbara Wallace.

After finishing barber school, Tom worked briefly at a shop in Sandusky. He was working for a barber in Vermilion when he learned of an opening at Townhouse on Oberlin Avenue in Lorain. He moved to Lorain in 1963.

He remained a “weekend warrior” through the 1960s, though not necessarily on weekends.

“He first joined the National Guard in Clyde,” his wife explained. “It became difficult when he lived in Lorain. Saturday was a big day for barbers.”

Tom was allowed to fulfill his duties on Wednesdays and Sundays, but the twice-a-week 2-hour-round-trip commute proved to be too much. He transferred to the 112th Engineer Battalion in Lorain. He served as a cook at the Armory and was sent with his unit to Cleveland’s Hough area to restore order during the riots of 1966.

He worked at the 5th Street Barber Shop before buying Baker’s Barber Shop in the late 1960s. Although he ended up changing the shop’s name to Tom’s, he kept Baker’s phone number so the shop would be among the first listed alphabetically in the telephone directory.

“Everyone liked Tom,” said Phil Leon, who lives near the shop. “He was friendly and easy going. He did a lot of talking, a few jokes here and there, and he did have his views on politics. Tom was an all around good guy, and if he could help you, he would.”

Tom gave homegrown vegetables and seedlings to customers. If the young plants didn’t thrive, the owners knew they could bring them back, and Tom would nurse them back to health.

“He had this geranium close to 15 years,” his wife said. “It’s huge. It would produce flowers all year long for him. He kept it in the shop all winter and on the back porch in summer.”

Tom bragged about his family to anyone who would listen. He was known to say that he was a “kept” man, spoiled by his wife.

“He was a hard worker and rarely missed a day of work,” his daughter Barbara said. “He complained about it sometimes, but he was truly in his element. He liked to talk politics or bring up any conversation to get a rise out of people.

“He also often joked he was as much as a psychologist to some of his customers as their barber, but I think that was just dad being dad.”

For the last 10 years, Tom ran his once hectic four-chair shop as a single-chair operation.

“He used to say he was retired, but he really wasn’t,” his wife said. “He said, ‘The body wants to retire, but the mouth can’t.’ He was a talker. He loved to talk about anything.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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