Mary Beth Sallee
Hart Co. News Herald
Growing up, Jason Larimore knew what it was like to go without. Due to life circumstances and decisions, he wasn’t sure what would become of his future. But his perspective in life changed for the better – all thanks to a local barber and a two dollar haircut.
In 1988, Jason was an eight-year-old kid growing up in Bonnieville. At that time, his mom was raising him and his younger brother by herself on just $228 a month.
“We were extremely poor,” Jason said. “…We didn’t get haircuts very often. But whenever we did, we always went to Otis Highbaugh.”
Otis was – and still is – a pillar within the community. He was the first mayor of Bonnieville and a long standing deacon at Bonnieville Baptist Church where he didn’t miss a single Sunday School for 30 to 40 years. But it was also Otis’ time behind the chair at his barber shop that allowed him to touch lives for over 70 years.
Otis’ career in cutting hair began when he was serving in the Navy during World War II.
“In the Navy, everybody had to have a job other than their military job,” shared Tim Highbaugh, one of Otis’ four children. “One day, they were busy and they were waiting in line to cut hair, and he said, ‘I can do that.’ They threw him in line and, of course, he didn’t get none of the officers, and he’d always tell the stories that the officers were the ones that tipped. He was the low man on the totem pole, and he finally got some of the officers to request him. That’s just how he sort of took hold (cutting hair).”
When Otis returned home after the war, he tried his hand at farming, which was a hard way to make a living. That’s when he decided to also open up his own barber shop.
Otis would often charge $3 for a haircut at his shop where he cut hair for 60 years before retiring. But even after retirement, he continued to cut hair for another 10 to 12 years from a little garage at his home. At that time, he didn’t charge a specific price but instead let others pay him what they wanted, whether it was $2 or $10.
It was those haircuts that not only made life more affordable for financially-stressed families, but also made a long lasting impact on others like Jason Larimore.
Due to bullying and other factors, Jason dropped out of high school at the age of 14, but he never forgot about Otis Highbaugh and the life that the business owner lived – a life spent working hard, serving others, and supporting his family.
At the age of 21, it was time for Jason to make a career decision. He got his GED and, with the support of his Aunt Naomi and Aunt Patty, chose to attend school to cut hair.
“The reason I chose to cut hair was because of Mr. Otis Highbaugh,” Jason said.
Jason now has his own successful barber shop in Louisville. He has been able to have a stable career and also care for his family members and friends in their time of need. It’s been possible all because of the career path he chose, all because of the influence of a barber in Bonnieville when Jason was just eight-years-old.
“Who would’ve thought it would have made that big of an impression – a two dollar haircut back in the day?” Jason said. “…The best way to live a good life is through example. Otis did that…That is the same kind of example I try to uphold.”
From growing up on food stamps to being able to afford both necessities and luxuries in life, Jason said cutting hair is the “greatest gift” he has ever received because it has given him financial stability and focus.
“The fact of the matter is, I would not have been able to do any of these things had it not been from the freedom and the longevity of my career all because of Mr. Otis Highbaugh,” Jason said.
Not only did Otis lead a life of example for those who sat in the chair at his barber shop, but he was also a positive influence within the walls of his own home.
Tim said his dad has always been a prime example of a good Christian husband and father.
“I never heard him cuss in my life, never heard him say a cuss word in my entire life,” Tim explained. “Never took a drink. He’s never had a drink of anything, went through the Navy and never had a drink. He and mom were married for 71 years. I get emotional talking about it.”
“You can never live up to a person like that,” Tim continued. “He supported us (his children) in all of our endeavors, loaned us money, helped us get a start, always came to all our ball games…Never was any doubt that he supported us in all that we did. He stood behind us and supported us.”
Otis will be 98 in January. Although he currently lives in an assisted living home and no longer cuts hair, his positive influence continues to stretch miles wide, from the place that he called home in Bonnieville all the way to a barber shop in Louisville.
It’s been said that you can never underestimate the power that one’s influence can have on the life of others. That’s certainly been evident in the life lived by Otis Highbaugh. Whether he’s seen as the best barber Bonnieville has ever had or the most influential pillar of the community, perhaps Tim said it best when he simply described his dad as, “The greatest man I’ve ever known.”