You might think 97-year-old Ralph Kimball of Murray, Utah, would be more careful with his hair. Instead, this World War II veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient says with a sly chuckle, “I trust it to a kid.”
That “kid″ is 91-year-old Wayne Chidester of Springville, Utah. Chidester is also a World War II veteran, and in the age of social media and digital relationships, their lengthy, loyal friendship is refreshing.
Approximately once a month for more than 30 years, Kimball has visited Chidester’s barber’s chair for what he calls “the perfect haircut″ and a reminder of what matters most in the world.
When the two friends are together and Chidester’s scissors work their magic, observers must marvel at the nearly 200 combined years of life experience.
Those who know these friends say their pre-wired sense of duty and loyalty flavors every aspect of their lives. They’re loyal to God, family, friends, work and country.
“I first met Wayne back when I was young, in my early 60s,” Kimball told me during a recent interview. “Every Saturday, he still drives from Springville up to Real Barbers in Midvale. There is no one better. I’d recommend him to anyone who wants a perfect haircut.”
“He said that?” Chidester asked when he heard of his friend’s recommendation. “He is such a gentleman.”
The two men have experienced everything over more than 350 haircuts. They’ve rejoiced in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they’ve mourned the loss of their beloved wives. Chidester recently said goodbye to Montez, his high school sweetheart and bride of more than 67 years. Kimball’s wife of 63 years, Marie, has been gone since 2004. He later married widow Beverly Stuznegger, whom he calls “a beauty and a gem.”
Typical of their generation, both men would rather discuss their families, friendship or weather than their bravery during the war. While Kimball and Chidester each spent most of their military careers in the Pacific theater, Kimball fought with the Army’s 7th infantry division and Chidester was a Navy man, doing damage control as a shipfitter. Although the two men escaped serious injury and returned home safely to their families, both had many friends who did not.
“But I believe the Lord takes care of veterans,” Chidester said. “We all came back so different — everyone does — and even today we need all the help we can get.”
Back home, Kimball’s post-war career was in finance, and he worked for the original Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust Company. Meanwhile, Chidester’s wife went to cosmetology school and encouraged her husband to study for his barber’s license. With jobs scarce, he wisely took her advice, and in 1947 he earned his license.
Chidester’s scissors haven’t stopped since.
When I asked them to explain their successes in life, love and friendship, both men relied on a deep sense of loyalty. Kimball remembers arriving for his haircut one Saturday and discovering that Chidester had left town for a family reunion. Though other barbers were available, men he knew well and who were very capable, Kimball simply said “thank you” and returned home.
“I went back the next week for my cut,” Kimball said. “When you’re loyal, you’re loyal.”
When I told Chidester about the gesture, he was both surprised and humbled. “Well,” he said, hesitating. “Well, if he said he did that, then he must have. What a kind man.”
On his days off, Chidester enjoys spending time with family and looks forward to his Saturday trips to work in the barbershop. Kimball spends time with his wife and plays music, completely by ear, on a keyboard in his condo. He also enjoys writing and is proud to have landed several letters to the editor in local papers.
Speaking of their shared loyalty, the men praised the military and the men and women who have served America at any time, on any front and in any uniform. Chidester and Kimball risked it all for the country they love, and both would do it again.
Those who know these friends say their prewired sense of duty and loyalty flavors every aspect of their lives. They’re loyal to God, family, friends, work and country.
As Chidester and Kimball count the days until their next Saturday appointment and all the others they pray will follow, that warm loyalty shows no signs of slipping.
“I’m not sure what I’d do if Wayne ever retired,” Kimball said of his trusted friend. “I’m just not sure.”
Once again, Chidester was humbled.
“He said that?” Chidester asked. “He’s always been so kind to me, so pleasant. I’m very thankful.”
“Of course he did,” I told him. “Because that’s what loyalty is all about.”