Written by: Michelle Vales
Loyd Miller and I had the honor of sitting down and talking with Arkansas native, Joe Dishongh, last Tuesday evening. Most of you know him as Joe, the Barber. He has clearly left an eternal mark on this community, and recognizing him as Grand Marshal for the upcoming Frontier Day parade on September 23, 2023, is a testament to the impact he has made over the years. We were most curious about his life in Plainview as “Joe, the Barber,” with the stories he heard, the laughs he had, and the memories he made over the years.
It was fascinating to hear about his journey from graduating from Fourche Valley High School (Rover, AR) in 1966 to becoming a skilled Master Barber with 56 years of experience, of which all 56 years were spent right here in this building in Plainview, AR. His passion for this community and his trade shined through in every word he spoke.
Joe graduated high school on a Friday night, and that next Tuesday, he enrolled at the school of Eaton Barber College in Little Rock, where it took him nine months (1800 hours) to receive his Barber license.
On February 22, 1967, after receiving his Barber's license, Joe moved to Plainview to serve as an apprentice under Master Barber Mr. Fred Blackstock, who retired in 1970. The way Joe described his apprenticeship was both inspiring and a testament to his dedication, and the fact that he has been able to maintain a successful and beloved barber shop for over five decades is absolutely remarkable.
His connection to his customers goes beyond mere haircuts—it is a testament to the welcoming and friendly atmosphere he has cultivated in his shop.
Joe has a sign in his barber shop that displays special cuts, buzz cuts, and flat top prices starting at $0.50. When asked if those were the prices in the good old days, he laughed and said someone had bought that sign for him and brought it up here. Fifty-six years ago, Joe started out charging just $1.00 for haircuts. It was interesting to hear about the changes in pricing over the years—from just the $1.00 he charged to his current rate of $10.00, which is not much, but it is a true reflection of how times have changed over the years.
Joe had lots of kind and uplifting stories, but he always came back to say, “I’ve been very blessed over the years to have been able to work in this community and have the friends and business that I have. The Lord has been very good to me.” Joe is in his third generation of cutting kids' hair. He talked about his wife of 30 years, who was the school secretary for 25 years, now retired; her brother, Danny Ray Owens, the photographer who takes beautiful landscape photographs around town; and his beautiful children and grandchildren. You could tell by the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eyes, as he spoke of his family, how much he is devoted to them.
He talked about all his good customers and friends, the ones he still has and the ones he has lost. If you do not know Joe, you would never guess how tenderhearted he is. The passion he had as he spoke of his customers really shined through. He was even getting a little choked up as he spoke of the four customers he had recently lost. It was heartwarming to hear about the relationships he has built, some of whom have become like family over the years.
Halfway through our conversation, Loyd asked Joe if he had cut hair for anyone famous. Although Joe could not think of anyone, we know he has.
Joe spoke of a time when he was a little boy. His dad, who was from Gravelly, went to school with Arthur Hunnicutt’s dad. Joe said that he and his dad drove up to the Hunnicutt home.
They had an old, beautiful two-story plantation home there in Gravelly. Arthur Hunnicutt (1910-1979), known for his portrayal of humorously wise and witty rural characters, had just come home for a visit. We laughed as Joe described his experience of meeting Arthur.
He said, “He scared me. I had never seen anyone with a beard like his. So, I got in the floorboard of the truck, and I squalled, and I bawled.” Joe has much admiration for the Hunnicutt family. He said they were common people and if it were not for his father, he never would have gotten to know Arthur. However, Joe never got to cut Arthur's hair.
Joe’s anecdotes about Arthur Hunnicutt's visit and the memories tied to this town's past offer a glimpse into a time that shaped his perspective. The stories he shared about Plainview's history and the changes it has seen over time, such as the introduction of city water, the construction of the Old Frontier Town, and the impact of events such as Frontier Day, painted a vivid picture of the town's evolution. One of Joe's happiest memories of Plainview was when they got the Harold Blalock City Park. The worst memories that came to his mind were when Plainview began losing businesses in town. He said seeing the town and the community go down was a tough time not only for him, but the community as well. His admiration for the community's spirit during tough times and the way the community comes together in the face of challenges reflects the genuine bonds formed among its residents.
Back in the day, when Joe came to Plainview, there were around six to seven grocery stores and three service stations. To hear Joe talk about it, Plainview was a happening place. It was nothing for Joe to open before or by seven o’clock in the morning and close at nine o’clock at night. On Saturday nights, he would close at eight o’clock. Joe reminisced about one Saturday when he opened before seven in the morning and did not stop for lunch or anything else. Before he knew it, it was fifteen minutes to eleven when he finished his last haircut. He could not believe he lasted all day without even eating. However, Joe still made it to church on Sunday morning.
Speaking of church, we asked Joe where he attended church. That was an interesting conversation. See, Joe is a Methodist, and his wife is a Free Will Baptist, but according to Joe, they do not have any problems with that. They attend the Hilltop church over there off Brush Creek across Lake Nimrod. His mother-in-law went there years ago, but the church eventually shut down. After a while, his mother-in-law got it going again, and now Joe and his wife just love this little church.
In Joe’s building, there used to be a Lawyer and a Realtor, and upstairs was a Dentist. The building still has the same door and latch as it did 56 years ago.
It was quite amusing to hear about the haircut mishaps with kids—it seems like some things never change, no matter the era!
Joe’s been using the same chairs ever since he bought the building. These chairs are now ninety-plus years old.
What is more exciting than getting a haircut at Joe’s barber? Loyd asked. Getting to sit in a 100-year-old barber chair!
When asked about retirement, Joe said he gets asked that question three or four times daily. Most of his customers say, “You better not retire, Joe. What are we going to do?” He never directly answered the question, but we don’t look for Joe to retire anytime soon.
His reminiscing about the old building, the antique chairs, and the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic all highlight the resilience and adaptability that have been key to his enduring success. His willingness to embrace new generations while retaining the essence of tradition is truly commendable. It was great to hear Joe reminiscing about the past, from the changing prices of haircuts to the evolution of the town itself. These stories offered a unique window into our town’s history, which is all-to-often forgotten.
Becoming the Grand Marshal is a fitting tribute to Joe’s contributions, and it is clear he is excited for the honor. His participation in the Frontier Day parade is sure to be a highlight of the festivities, and it is a chance for the community to celebrate him and the positive impact he has had on Plainview.
As the conversations gradually came to a close, we asked Joe if he would consider being one of the judges for our Mr., Ms., Little Mr., and Little Miss Frontier Day Best Western Outfit contest at Frontier Day, and his answer was completely understandable.
Joe smiled softly and kindly declined as he prioritized his customers' feelings and experiences. He has clearly built strong relationships with them over the years, and it is clear their satisfaction means a lot to him.
We want to thank Joe for sharing his story and experiences. It was a pleasure listening to his journey and learning about the impact he has had on his community over the years. His enthusiasm and dedication are truly inspiring. Congratulations, Joe, on this well-deserved honor!
Do you have a story or experience with "Joe, the Barber" you would like to share? Please comment below. We would love to hear your stories.
Interview with Joe Dishongh on August 22, 2023, with Michelle Vales, President of Plainview AR Community Events, and Loyd Miller, Vice President of Plainview AR Community Events and Pastor at Free Will Baptist Church.