Free shave and a haircut

The Bakken oil rush has drawn people not just from around the country but from all over the world, in search of work, opportunity, and perhaps even a bit of adventure. Among this eclectic blend of newcomers, Irvin Pelton Jr. recently arrived to Minot with his wife, Dianna Woolever.

“This is our seventh week now,” Pelton estimated of their time in Minot. “You guys are making history here in North Dakota. We came here to be part of the history.”

Since arriving, the two have been busying themselves not with finding work on the oilfields, but with volunteering at local soup kitchens, churches, shelters, and the remaining flood recovery camps, helping out however they can. A barber by trade, Pelton’s best efforts have been given in providing complimentary haircuts for whoever needs them.

“By the grace of God, I love cutting hair,” he said. “It’s a gift that I’ve been given.”

It’s a gift that’s he’s been honing now for over three decades. “I learned in the heart of Detroit,” cutting hair of all kinds in his 6 Mile neighborhood. After getting his barber’s license in 1981, Pelton ran a shop of his own in his hometown.

The couple’s recent move to the area comes at the end of a circuitous journey, one that began late last spring. Living in Michigan, both Pelton and Woolever had just lost their fathers to illness within two months of each other, and in their shared grief had come to the same conclusion.

“Life is so short,” Pelton realized. “Some things we just don’t think about until it’s not there.”

Woolever was the daughter of a police officer and Pelton had grown up in a rough neighborhood, so both had been raised to be aware of people less fortunate than themselves. Despite their own recent losses, or because of them, they reflected on what they had and the things that other people lacked. People like the homeless, the infirm, the elderly, disaster-stricken and unemployed; people who might benefit most from a good turn or two.

“In your own little world, you don’t think about these people,” Woolever said, with thoughts often occupied with work, family, and innumerable errands. “But the world needs more people to think about it.”

“The need is everywhere,” Pelton added. “There are so many of us that would like to go and do something,” but either cannot afford to or won’t, because of other responsibilities.

The pair decided to sell what they owned and began migrating to where they perceived that need, heading first to Louisiana and Mississippi to help with storm recovery, later traveling up to Boulder, Colo., where September flooding had been catastrophic. Throughout the summer and fall, the couple worked in five different states. It was while working in South Dakota that North Dakota caught Pelton’s imagination.

“I’ve had friends and customers that came out here,” he recounted, returning with stories about the boom, the state’s 2011 flood troubles, and the need that existed there for people like themselves. “That’s why we’re here,” he said.

“It’s been incredible, definitely incredible,” said Woolever. After the death of her father, she explained she had at first felt like sequestering herself off. Instead, traveling around the country with her husband and doing volunteer work has been a more positive way to cope with her loss.

“It broke me out of that,” she said, referring to the urge to distance herself. “It makes you feel better.”

The lifestyle change hasn’t been an easy one, though, living out of a truck.

“All that we’re doing now, it’s new to me,” Woolever said. On the other hand, she added “it’s definitely, definitely worth having that experience. You really don’t know what you can do until you go without.”

The two were helping out at the First Presbyterian Church soup kitchen Wednesday evening, after putting down flooring earlier at Hope Village.

“All walks of life come here,” Pelton said of the place. He explained that the soup kitchen is not just for the homeless or hungry, but is there for anybody in need of a little fellowship. “It’s a good way to network,” and meet new people.

He’d set up a chair for cuts on the far side of the gym, conducting the interview as he trimmed a man’s sideburns.

What’s the importance of a haircut? “Being able to look in the mirror and enjoy what you’re seeing,” Pelton says. “Our hair, we wear every day.” Keeping it clean and cut the way we like is in a way fundamental to how we see ourselves, and the barber is full of anecdotes about how a haircut served to brighten someone’s day.

Any offered tips he referred to the soup kitchen’s collection can at the front.

“My life isn’t about money right now. It’s about being able to help,” he said. “I get the privelege of being here.”

Interested in staying on, Pelton is currently inquiring about what it takes to get licensed with the North Dakota barber board. He doesn’t plan to finally put down his clippers until Oct. 1, 2057, when he turns 100. “I set that date 30 years ago,” he said.

In the mean time, for a haircut or an extra set of hands he and Woolever can be reached at (303) 941-0398.