More than a barber —”comedian,” “mentor,” and “friend” — were some of the words used to describe the late Walt Moss.
Moss, 86, passed away Tuesday and left behind a legacy that impacted Kokomo for decades.
Best known around town for being the owner and founder of the Walt Moss Barber Shop at the corner of East Mulberry and Main streets, in downtown Kokomo, Moss opened the shop on Dec. 28, 1965.
Moss was a lifetime member of the Elks, Knights of Columbus, the Y’s Men, an international group of volunteers in support of YMCA, and proudly served in the Indiana National Guard, 38th Division, for eight years, attaining the rank of E-7.
Those who worked with Moss shared story after story, for instance, his love of the St. Louis Cardinals, his sports car and his way with people. Current co-owner of the shop Doug Newman came to find his place at the shop after attending barber school with Chris Moss, Walt’s son, who started working for his father about three months earlier. Newman explained how the elder Moss took him under his wing at the age of 19 and has stayed ever since.
A Chicago Cubs fan, Newman actual liked the Cardinals as well, but in favor of back-and-forth and friendly bets in the shop, Newman would back the Cubs.
“I don’t even remember now if they knew I was secretly a Cardinals fan, too,” he said, laughing.
One of Newman’s favorite traditions was going bar to bar during the holiday season. He said it was really more about getting out and seeing everyone at the bars who frequented the shop and thanking them for their patronage. Afterwards, they all get together at one of the bars and eat.
“Walt ran a good ship here … it’s a small barber shop so you become like a family,” he said.
Now one of the co-owners of the shop with Newman, Leon Organ was the last person hired by Moss roughly 25 years ago. One of Organ’s favorite comedic moments of Moss’ actually comes from an incident after Moss passed out at work and needed to have an ambulance called.
“So as he’s lying on the gurney they’re going to take him out on, and he says, ‘let’s get everybody in town here talking – put that sheet over my head and roll me out the door.’ That’s the sense of humor Walt had,” Organ said. “He thought that was hilarious.”
Organ recounted another story about how Moss once saw a man litter on the sidewalk out in front of the shop. Moss went outside, made the pan pick it up and throw the trash away.
“That guy, from that day on, walked across the other side of the street and never walked over here again,” he said.
Another person who recounted Moss’ sense of humor was friend and patron of the shop Alan Kaye. While originally getting his hair cut by Moss as a kid, the two reconnected years down the road when Kaye began working at the jewelry shop across the street.
The two bonded over their shared love of jazz music and begin trading cassette tapes during the lunch hour. Moss would end up hooking Kaye on Trombone Shorty.
“We went back and forth. He liked the traditional jazz – the older jazz, and I liked the modern jazz,” Kaye said. “We would trade and he would say to me, ‘that’s got too much electronic stuff in it for me, I like the traditional stuff.’”
Sometimes the two would just listen to music at Moss’ home and discuss their likes and dislikes.
One of Moss’ claims to fame was the pride and passion he put into being able to cut flattop haircuts. Organ said Moss was the guy to go to and the “king” of flattops.
Pennie Duncan is a former stylist at the shop and was glad to have Moss as her mentor – learning not just how to cut flattops but how to do cryptograms in the Newspaper. Like many at the shop, Moss was her mentor. She said she’ll always remember going in the shop on cold mornings and it feeling like home.
Organ and Newman were thrilled to receive an unannounced visit from Moss at the shop back in August — a trip so secret, Moss’ wife didn’t know he left.
“He comes walking in the back door, didn’t want a haircut or nothing, he just stopped in to visit and that was pretty cool. Doug and I were working that day. It was fun to see him that day,” Organ said, noting Moss had left his walker at home.
“It’s like God gave him a day. God gave him one day he could go out and run around.”