Long-time barber hangs up the razor at The Citadel

Willie Rivers

Willie Rivers

By Karina Bolster WCSC TV , Charleston
Posted: May 04, 2015 6:00 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – A nearly 30-year career at The Citadel came to an end Monday as one of the school’s long-time barbers hung up the razor to retiring. Over 20,000 cadets and those in the community pass through the James L. Rampey III barber shop every year. This fall the familiar face of Willie Rivers will be missing as barbers give freshman that brand new look. “They can’t say anything,” Rivers laughed in response to the knob cuts. “They’re not allowed to say anything, that’s the good part about it.”

Rivers, 82, has been a barber at The Citadel for nearly three decades. “I just love to be around the kids, and I love cutting hair,” Rivers said. He’s still sharp with his tools, but after Monday he’ll be looking after someone special. “My wife is ill so I’m going to take care of her, until the next move,” Rivers said. His wife has Parkinson’s disease and while his children have cared for her over the years, he felt he should be with her more often.

Rivers wasn’t always a barber though. He worked for the city of New York for several years, among other jobs before finally taking up shop at The Citadel, giving freshman that unmistakable buzz. “You sit in the chair, they knock all your hair off right quick, and it’s just a big rush,” Kelbey Oakes, a freshman at The Citadel, said. In the fall, barbers usually shave 60 cadets on “knob day.”

After 30 years in the business you may think he could do it with his eyes closed, but he says each student is different. “It’s not as easy as you think it is,” Rivers said. “You have to go low enough, but you can’t be leaving any holes or anything.”

Despite Monday being his final day, his presence won’t be forgotten. His co-workers admit he’s brought something indescribable to the shop in all his years. “It’s hard to talk [about it],” Kim Sparkman, a barber at The Citadel for 12 years, said. “He’s just my friend. It’s nothing special, it’s just a friendship we’ve had, and I’m going to miss him.”

The cadets have noticed him also, some from the first swipe of the razor. “When you get those short haircuts, this is where the memories happen,” Nolan Bradley, a senior who was getting his last haircut at The Citadel, said. “It’s just so heartwarming.” “He’s part of the institution,” Oakes added. “He’s been here a while, he knows his way around, knows what he’s doing. It’s good to have a rock like that in the barber shop or anywhere on campus.”

Monday Rivers’ coworkers threw a retirement party for him. Several cadets from the past sent in pictures wishing him the best during his retirement.

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