Tribute to Mt. Carroll icon

Long-time Mount Carroll barber Donnie Slick enjoyed his hobby of collecting antique tractors, jokingly claiming that he was only existing Allis Chalmers dealer in the area.

By KENNY LEGO

Another Mount Carroll icon has left us on March 16 to take the journey down the path of eternal life. Donald (Donnie) Slick was a guy that everyone knew that wore a white barber smock for nearly 50 years in the downtown Mt. Carroll business district and cut the hair and shaved the faces of many a boy and man.

Donnie went to barber school at Lincoln Barber College in East Moline sometime after graduating in 1958 from Mount Carroll High School. It didn’t happen immediately though, because right after graduating high school he landed a job with the Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Freeport as a car clean-up and detailing person.

While working there he was able to work out a deal to buy a 1950 Mercury Monterey, which was a big tub of a car back then. This was his mode of transportation for work and pleasure. A big thing back then was when you pulled up somewhere to park, you’d push the gas pedal clear to the floor to make it roar before shutting it off. Donnie always took advantage of the opportunity to do that. One time while doing it, he blew the muffler off and had to get under the car to put it back on. (Not a happy camper by any means!)

He then went to barber college and had teamed up with Tom Kelsey (longtime barber from Savanna) to trade off driving each week. After graduation, he went to work for Bud Tipton’s shop (located in the south half of what is now Rita’s Mount Carroll Cafe). After several years of working there, Donnie purchased the building at 104 W. Market St. that had at one time housed the Western Auto Hardware store and most recently had been the Sink or Swim second-hand store that raised money for the city swimming pool.

Donnie had fulfilled the dream of being his own boss. Over the years many a flat top, crew cut and whatever other type of style of haircut was performed in a Slick’s barber chair. For many years, Donnie had an assistant that used the south barber chair, (Donnie`s was always the north one) and the assistant that I remember most was Lowell (Gib) Gibbon who was there for around five years before buying a shop in Montfort, Wis. 

On Monday, Nov. 17, 1975, the building was consumed by a fire and temporarily put the shop out of business. Donnie decided to rebuild on the site and temporarily moved the shop to a vacant office in Dr. Piper’s building down the street. He wasn’t about to let his clients down by sitting idle for a few months.

Donnie had a memory like a steel trap (like most barbers do) when it came to knowing what type of cut his clients desired and he knew just about everyone by their first name. Besides knowing first names, Donnie also learned a lot about the clients themselves, which is another trait of the barber profession.

Being a jokester, if Donnie knew some kind of (clean) colorful news about you (after he got you in the chair), he would always start the conversation with, “What’s this I heard about you?” and so on! Being the jokester that he was, if he knew a client well enough to know that they could take a joke, he would take the opportunity of calling the client after a parking ticket, speeding ticket or some brush with a policeman and would say, “This is Captain Slowmo of the Illinois State Police and I understand that” and so on, but when he figured they’d had enough, he would then say something to give himself away.

Donnie loved small kids and enjoyed watching them go to the drawer to get their treat after a haircut. He enjoyed the teenage boys and adult men too, because he could talk sports, cars, farming, hunting and local and world events. He even had to break up a few heated arguments from time to time. There was seldom a dull moment in the shop. He was and avid Cubs and Bears fan and was very supportive of Mount Carroll Hawks’ sports.

Some people knew that Donnie also enjoyed the hobby of antique tractors, as he jokingly claimed that he was the only existing Allis Chalmers dealer in the area, having some of the tractors and short line machinery that we would buy and fix up.

After retiring from barbering, he loved getting together with the boys in his machine shed or for lunch at one of the cafes downtown. You could pretty much count on seeing him come out of a café daily with two of his cohorts, Dick Dewey and the late Don Fisher. I use to tell him that you guys got the world’s problems solved again today, I see! He would usually answer, “Of course!”

A couple of things that many people didn’t know about Donnie. He was blind in his right eye since his teenage years. This was caused by a dart lodging accidentally in his eye at a friend’s party one weekend. But to look at him, you’d never detect it.

The other thing was that he started attending grade school earlier than a lot of kids his age. His birthday was Jan. 13, 1941, and he graduated with the MCHS Class of 1958. He really should have graduated with the 1959 class. He use to kind of brag about being the youngest in his class because everyone else was born in late 1939 or in 1940. I asked him once what made him the exception. He replied, “Well, going to a country grade school, my folks thought I was too smart not to go early!”  I didn’t question further!

In 1984, Donnie got his chance to be on the silver screen, having been asked to play a cameo part as a barber in the movie “Hard Knox” starring Robert Conrad, Red West and a host of other stars. He was in a scene where cadets were receiving haircuts from several barbers, only Donnie was the only barber, the rest were actors.

When being kidded about getting his autograph from his clients, he would remark, “I’ve just joined the ranks of being as popular to my public as two other barbers on TV, Floyd Lawson (Andy Griffith Show) 1960s, and Clifton Curtis (That`s My Mama) 1970’s, that was supposed to be staged in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Donnie was an avid bowler for many years in Mount Carroll and at the lanes in Fulton. He even sponsored a team in Mount Carroll. He loved playing pinball each day that he would go to lunch at Isenhart’s. Ralph Larsen and Donnie would see who could get there first.

When I first got my bus permit at age 21, I said to Donnie that I was probably one of the youngest bus drivers that Mount Carroll ever had and he replied, “I’m going to have to dispute that, as I drove a Mount Carroll bus at a much younger age than you!” He went on to tell how one afternoon after a big snowstorm that bus driver Moon Hannes couldn’t get down Slick Road as it was blown shut. Donnie remarked, “I know another way by just driving down our one field.” Moon got out of the driver’s seat and said, “If you know where to go, then you drive the bus.” Donnie obliged and drove the bus down to the barnyard without incident. (Wouldn’t dare do that in current times.)

He also related to me that the name Slick was actually derived form the old world name of Schlitz (like the beer) He then told me, “Don’t ever discuss that with my mother, as she didn’t feel that the old world name was appropriate!”

When I posted Donnie`s passing Tuesday night on the Mount Carroll Memories Facebook page, the site lit up like a Christmas tree in no time! It was so overwhelming to see all the responses of comfort and sympathy that came across the screen.

For those who attended Donnie’s visitation and funeral, I hope that you all spotted the wooden replica of the barber shop that sat in his front window for years that was made by Lee Rogers. That brought back a lot of good memories, for sure!

Yes sir, Donnie Slick, you were an icon and good friend to many over the years, not to mention a devoted and loving husband to Merille, father to Carey and John, and grandpa too! You will certainly be missed! Rest in peace, my friend!