Local

April 25, 2014

March ARB: Base loses longtime barber

Ricardo Alvarez in February 2014 at Big Bear Lake.

Maj. Gen. Mark Kyle has seen a lot of Air Force and Air Reserve bases. Like most military personnel, he lives the transient existence of shifting posts every couple of years. Few people stay at one base long enough to become fixtures.

Richard “Ricardo” Alvarez was an exception.

Alvarez was the barber at March Air Reserve Base, where he cut the hair of officers and enlisted men alike. When he died of heart failure April 13 after a kidney infection, he had been working the clippers there for 50 years. He was 80.

“I’ve never even heard of anyone being on a Maj. Gen. Mark Kyle has seen a lot of Air Force and Air Reserve bases. Like most military personnel, he lives the transient existence of shifting posts every couple of years. Few people stay at one base long enough to become fixtures.

Richard “Ricardo” Alvarez was an exception.

Alvarez was the barber at March Air Reserve Base, where he cut the hair of officers and enlisted men alike. When he died of heart failure April 13 after a kidney infection, he had been working the clippers there for 50 years. He was 80.

“I’ve never even heard of anyone being on a base that long,” Kyle said. “I’ll bet he probably set the record.”

Base personnel and Air Force veterans say they are mourning Alvarez, who set up his chair at March in 1964, the same year the Beatles invaded the United States, inspiring a generation to run from the barber’s shears.

A former Army MP who served in the Korean War, Alvarez was newly discharged from the service when a cousin talked him into going to barber school, said Nancy Alvarez, 46, Ricardo’s widow. She believes it was the same cousin who roped him into the March gig when Ricardo, a Phoenix native, was vacationing in Southern California.

“He was headed to Disneyland,” Nancy said. His cousin was working at March and needed some help. “He asked him to work for a week to make some money.”

Alvarez never left. In fact, another two decades passed before he finally made it to Disneyland.

Over the years, there were few heads on base that he didn’t know, Nancy said.

“Most recently he cut the new commander’s hair. Before that, it was Gen. Kyle and before that it was Gen. Crabtree, and who knows how many before him.”

When the officers retired, they often remained clients, coming back to the base to get a trim.

Former base commander Brig. Gen. Stan Brown, 85, of Riverside was one of them.

“He’s just been cutting our hair for so many years, we had developed a relationship more than just barber-to-customer,” Brown said. “It became personal. He’d say, ‘Guess what? So-and-so came in.’ We’d talk about the past.”

Kyle, now at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga., said that after he left March last year, it wasn’t uncommon for his phone to ring when Brown was in Alvarez’ chair.

“He and Stan would call me occasionally,” he said. “But there’s nothing in those conversations you could print.”

Kyle said he started a tradition with Alvarez.

“The first time I went there, I asked him at the end, I said, ‘Ricardo how many hair cuts do you think you’ve given?’” Kyle said. “He said, ‘If I had a quarter for every haircut I’ve given I‘d be really rich.’ I walked into the officer’s club and got change for a dollar and I came back and gave him a quarter and I said, ‘Here, keep track.’”

Kyle said he always left Alvarez with a quarter — in addition to the $8 for the cut. Others began doing it, too, he said.

Alvarez would catch his clients up on the latest base gossip. He would ask about their families. He might tell them about the latest car show he’d been to with his vintage Thunderbird. And there was golf.

“He was an avid golfer,” Nancy said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s he belonged to the Mexican American golf association.”

Nancy married Ricardo 18 months ago. She said she was attracted by his kindness and his belly laughs. She was surprised when she accompanied him to the change-of-command ceremony in which Kyle turned over the 4th Air Force reins to Brig. Gen. John Flournoy.

“They had a seat reserved for (Alvarez) in the third row,” she said. “I said, ‘You’re the barber.’ And he said, ‘I’m everybody’s favorite barber.’ He had a general to his left and a general to his right. Everybody walked up to him and hugged him. It was amazing.”

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Meredith, 71, is a former manager of the base officer’s club, which houses the barbershop. He said Alvarez earned the respect of the base personnel. Not only did he take care of his customers year after year as they came through the door, he said, but when a few of them became too old to make the trip to the base, he would visit their homes and cut their hair.

Brown said Alvarez was more than just a nice guy.

“He was loyal to us and we were loyal to him,” he said. “That’s about the best I can say it.”

A burial service for Alvarez is planned for 9:45 a.m. May 2, at Riverside National Cemetery

base that long,” Kyle said. “I’ll bet he probably set the record.”

Base personnel and Air Force veterans say they are mourning Alvarez, who set up his chair at March in 1964, the same year the Beatles invaded the United States, inspiring a generation to run from the barber’s shears.

A former Army MP who served in the Korean War, Alvarez was newly discharged from the service when a cousin talked him into going to barber school, said Nancy Alvarez, 46, Ricardo’s widow. She believes it was the same cousin who roped him into the March gig when Ricardo, a Phoenix native, was vacationing in Southern California.

“He was headed to Disneyland,” Nancy said. His cousin was working at March and needed some help. “He asked him to work for a week to make some money.”

Alvarez never left. In fact, another two decades passed before he finally made it to Disneyland.

Over the years, there were few heads on base that he didn’t know, Nancy said.

“Most recently he cut the new commander’s hair. Before that, it was Gen. Kyle and before that it was Gen. Crabtree, and who knows how many before him.”

When the officers retired, they often remained clients, coming back to the base to get a trim.

Former base commander Brig. Gen. Stan Brown, 85, of Riverside was one of them.

“He’s just been cutting our hair for so many years, we had developed a relationship more than just barber-to-customer,” Brown said. “It became personal. He’d say, ‘Guess what? So-and-so came in.’ We’d talk about the past.”

Kyle, now at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga., said that after he left March last year, it wasn’t uncommon for his phone to ring when Brown was in Alvarez’ chair.

“He and Stan would call me occasionally,” he said. “But there’s nothing in those conversations you could print.”

Kyle said he started a tradition with Alvarez.

“The first time I went there, I asked him at the end, I said, ‘Ricardo how many hair cuts do you think you’ve given?’” Kyle said. “He said, ‘If I had a quarter for every haircut I’ve given I‘d be really rich.’ I walked into the officer’s club and got change for a dollar and I came back and gave him a quarter and I said, ‘Here, keep track.’”

Kyle said he always left Alvarez with a quarter — in addition to the $8 for the cut. Others began doing it, too, he said.

Alvarez would catch his clients up on the latest base gossip. He would ask about their families. He might tell them about the latest car show he’d been to with his vintage Thunderbird. And there was golf.

“He was an avid golfer,” Nancy said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s he belonged to the Mexican American golf association.”

Nancy married Ricardo 18 months ago. She said she was attracted by his kindness and his belly laughs. She was surprised when she accompanied him to the change-of-command ceremony in which Kyle turned over the 4th Air Force reins to Brig. Gen. John Flournoy.

“They had a seat reserved for (Alvarez) in the third row,” she said. “I said, ‘You’re the barber.’ And he said, ‘I’m everybody’s favorite barber.’ He had a general to his left and a general to his right. Everybody walked up to him and hugged him. It was amazing.”

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Meredith, 71, is a former manager of the base officer’s club, which houses the barbershop. He said Alvarez earned the respect of the base personnel. Not only did he take care of his customers year after year as they came through the door, he said, but when a few of them became too old to make the trip to the base, he would visit their homes and cut their hair.

Brown said Alvarez was more than just a nice guy.

“He was loyal to us and we were loyal to him,” he said. “That’s about the best I can say it.”

A burial service for Alvarez is planned for 9:45 a.m. May 2, at Riverside National Cemetery.

(This story was reprinted from the April 21 edition of the Press Enterprise with permission from the author.)




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