Joe Beardsley opened his shop in Naperville on his birthday this summer, doing what one does when his last name is Beardsley: cutting hair.
Beardsley is part of a family with at least 20 members in three generations all actively involved in barbering. They work at nine shops in three states, all tracing their lineage back to Beardsley's grandfather, Lee Beardsley, and his father, Larry Beardsley. There are mainly men and some women among the barbers, with both in-laws and full-blooded Beardsleys in the mix.
Larry, 77, started his own informal barber training by cutting the hair of his neighbors and friends in Bell City, Missouri, while they sat on a stump in his front yard, his son said. He was maybe 12 or 14 years old. By the time he was in his 20s, as a young father to six kids in the early 1970s, Larry went to barber college and became licensed.
A generation later, when Joe Beardsley was dissatisfied with his machinist job at a factory in Rockford at age 22, he said, his father encouraged him to change course.
"That's when my dad was like, 'You need to be a barber,'" said Joe Beardsley, 52, of Roselle, who doubles as a minister and a barber. "When your last name is Beardsley, you don't have much choice."
It wasn't a career path the younger Beardsley had considered, despite the occupations of his grandfather and father. But after he enrolled in Lincoln Barber College in Rockford, he started a trend in his family. He said one of his brothers started classes at the same school two weeks later; then a month after that, one of his brothers-in-law did the same. Soon after, a friend from his church joined in as well.
When Joe Beardsley graduated in 1991 and became a licensed barber, he went to work at his father's shop in far downstate Harrisburg.
There were a small number of barbers in the family by then, but the number didn't really grow until Joe Beardsley's son, David, announced as a high school junior in 2005 that he was interested in following his father's footsteps in two ways -- by attending both Bible college to study ministry and barber college to learn the family trade.
Joe Beardsley was working at a barber shop under different ownership in Huntley at the time. But he wanted to do for his son what his father had done for him, by giving him a place to work after college and helping with his training. So Joe Beardsley left the other owner's shop and started his own, also in Huntley.
Two years later, he opened a second Beardsley's in Elk Grove Village. His first customer there was a friendly police officer who stopped by to welcome him as a new business owner and ended up getting a fresh cut.
Phenix City, Alabama, came next, as Beardsley moved there to continue his ministry through United Pentecostal Church International, and to help his father train barbers from the church.
Beardsley later opened barber shops and continued his ministry in Eureka, Missouri, and back in the suburbs in St. Charles before opening his latest shop -- his sixth -- on July 1 in Naperville. It was the third time he's opened a shop in his birthday, he said, and the ninth location under the Beardsley's umbrella. Other sites are in Algonquin, DeKalb (called University City Barber Shop) and Lanett, Alabama.
Beardsley said he loves the history of barbering in his family and in society at large, and he loves the way it gives him chances to connect with people. He said he expects a Bible study or some other ministry will sprout from his new shop in Naperville, which is tucked into the corner of a strip mall along Ogden Avenue between River Road and Valley Drive.
He's still building his Naperville customer base, and when he's not busy cutting, shaving or styling someone's hair in one of his shop's six vintage barber chairs, he's online, populating databases with his business' details so the shaggy-haired public can find it.
Beardsley pops up from the marketing portion of his job when a new customer comes in, a middle-aged man who works in IT. The man says he likes his hair largely as it is, but it needs some trimming.
"You're going to like it better," Beardsley says, "if you sit down and let me fix it."