Our Kind of People

Coast Character: Prosthetic leg doesn't stop Ocean Springs barber from cutting up

OCEAN SPRINGS -- "I'm busy, Rita," Stylemasters owner Dennis Frazier told his employee as she took a break from a haircut she was doing to answer the phone on Wednesday.

"Mmm hmm," Rita Davis responded, rolling her eyes.

While she scheduled a haircut for later in the afternoon, Frazier said his shop, which has been open since 1977, wouldn't be successful without Davis' help.

"She runs everything," he said. "I pay the bills, Rita does the bossing."

Frazier's shop on Becthel Avenue is certainly retro.

In the sitting area, customers can buy a comb for $2 among the small selection of styling products arranged in the built-in shelving.

The antenna for the television, made by Davis out of wire coat hangers, was called "modern art" by a man getting his haircut.

Both bookshelves in the foyer are lined with novels that have certainly been read several times.

The original collection was a small stack near Frazier's work station. Soon, he had to buy a shelf.

"People will take three or four books and bring back five or six books," he said.

The stations, equipped with a brown leather chair with wooden detail, include a sink and counter space for brushes, scissors, clippers and styling gels.

For $12, men can have have their hair cut, washed and styled. Frazier doesn't offer any other services at his shop.

"When I came to work 50 years ago, we were just competing with other barber shops," he said. Frazier's wife, Ruth, owns a hair salon in town, and 40 percent of her clientele are men. But it's loyal customers that keep Dennis, Rita and barber Jim in business.

The trio have worked together for more than three decades, and many of the customers in the chairs have heads of gray hair that were once blond or brown.

One of Frazier's clients has been coming to him since his first barber job in 1966.

"There ain't no other barber shop that's ever touched my hair," said client John Hamilton as he sat in Davis' chair.

Hamilton got his first haircut at the shop and has been a loyal customer.

He even used to drive down to Ocean Springs to get a trim while he attended college.

It's customers like Hamilton that have convinced Frazier that closing down shop is not an option.

"It's hard to quit and stay home when you can come to work and meet all of these people for so long," he said. "I can't retire."

Frazier is from a small town just north of Meridian and moved to Biloxi to cut hair after barber school. "I thought I'd be the one to drop out first. I'm still here five days a week," he said.

Losing a limb

Frazier had a leg amputated after he was involved in a hunting accident when he was 17.

"Back then, everybody called it peg legged," Frazier said.

The wooden leg was held in place by a steel contraption and strapped to his body with leather holsters. He said it was heavy, aggravating and uncomfortable to wear.

"I could walk but I limped worse because the legs was bad back then," Frazier said.

But that didn't deter him.

"I think when you're 17, you adjust to anything," he said.

He got a new prosthetic leg nine years ago, and Frazier said it just fits right onto his body with no hooks or straps.

"My peg leg is, in some ways, better than this leg. I've been thinking about getting this leg taken off," he said.

Cutting up on the bike

The Fraziers are bicyclists, and Dennis said wife Ruth is way better at it than he is, although he has competed in 14 races where he placed gold, silver or bronze.

He started riding when Ruth purchased bicycles 30 years ago, but a knee injury 14 years ago caused him to sit on the sideline. About five years ago, he started riding again.

He's faced some bumps in the road -- like a time when he hit a pothole in Meridian and his leg fell off, only to then be run over by an 18-wheeler. But, he said bicycling is a great form of exercise that keeps him in top shape.

"It's really, really good for you," he said. "I've lost 35 pounds of flab since I started back."

Sometimes, he rides 100 miles in a day.

"I plan on bicycling for a long time," he said. "I see no reason why men can't bicycle until they're at least 90."