Bob Lutz determined the course of his future as an 8-year-old boy milking cows in rural Kansas.
Lutz was born on a dairy farm in Valley Falls, Kan., in July 1941. He was the youngest of six kids. One afternoon, as a grade-school-aged Lutz sat at the dairy farm in dirty clothes, an unfamiliar car drove up to the house.
Out stepped Sam, Lutz’s older brother, who had served during World War II. Upon his return home, Sam enrolled in barber school and got a job working in a barber shop.
Sam’s visit to the farm that day made an impression on the young boy.
“He came out with a new car, dressed well and looked well,” Lutz said. “And I thought, ‘I want that.'”
Years later, as a 16-year-old high school junior, Lutz made good on his dream. He dropped out of La Center High School and enrolled in barber college. He convinced his dad to pay his tuition for the nine-month program and started classes right away.
He graduated in June 1958 — a month before his 17th birthday.
Today, Lutz owns Arlo’s Barber Shop in downtown Vancouver and is closing in on 60 years as a barber. He’s never doubted his career path.
“I truly love it,” Lutz said. “Pick something you really love, and you’ll never work another day. That’s what I’ve done.”
When Lutz was a few days old, his mother, father, two brothers and one sister packed up their belongings and moved from northeastern Kansas to Vancouver. Lutz’s parents had jobs lined up at the Kaiser Shipyard — he as a sheet metal worker, she as a welder.
But doctors wouldn’t allow infant Bob to travel because they wanted to monitor his oxygen levels. So, Lutz was left behind with his older sister, June, who had given birth to a daughter of her own 10 days earlier.
What was supposed to be a few months living with his sister turned into three years. The family spent several years living in the Orchards area, but when work dried up after the war, they moved around, then landed again in Kansas in 1952.
A few years later, the family came back to the Pacific Northwest. Lutz’s parents bought the La Center Cafe and a home nearby. As a child and teenager, Lutz gained experience working on farms and in restaurants. Still, he always went back to his dream of becoming a barber.
“It just stuck in my life,” he said.
Customers for life
After graduating from barber school, Lutz stayed on as an instructor before landing his first job at a busy downtown Vancouver shop, Galen’s Barber Shop. Lutz quickly became a partner and, a few years later, took over as owner.
Bob’s Barber Shop was born.
After a couple of moves, Lutz set down roots at Schofield’s Corner in Uptown Village, running Bob’s Barber Shop there for 30 years. In 2004, Lutz decided to sell the building lease — and leave his position as the building’s landlord — and joined his longtime friend, Arlo Ritenburgh, at Arlo’s Barber Shop. Six months later, Lutz bought the downtown Vancouver shop.
And after nearly 60 years, the 76-year-old has no intention of slowing down, as long as he remains in good health.
“Customers ask me all the time when am I going to retire,” Lutz said. “I tell them, ‘I don’t know. Ask God.’ Everyone has to do something.”
After six decades, Lutz has grown a large and loyal customer base.
He’s cut the hair of many prominent Vancouver men — former mayors, bankers, business owners. Some clients started as children and now bring their children in for haircuts.
“He has some 60-year-olds who’ve never had anyone else cut their hair,” said James Howell, who works at Arlo’s Barber Shop.
Count Michael Jaffe, 61, among those who first saw Lutz for a haircut as a child.
Jaffe was a toddler when Lutz first cut his hair. After going elsewhere for a few years, Jaffe reconnected with Lutz when he was in high school. He hasn’t left since.
“I know when I go in, before he touches me, that I’m going to leave with my hair the way I want it to be and I’m going to feel good about myself,” Jaffe said. “With Bob, you know what you’re going to get, and it turns out perfect every time.”
Throughout the years, Lutz dabbled in other fields while also running his barber shop. He owned real estate with his former wife. He ran a restaurant called “Good, Bad and Ugly” and opened the first tanning salon in Vancouver — “Home of the $3 tan,” Lutz said.
“It did very well,” Lutz said. “It was not anything I liked.”
“Barbering,” he said, “has always been my love.”