Bob DeFrang couldn’t have been more pleased. The buzz of clippers didn’t drown out his words of appreciation and approval. “I never would have been a good hippie,” the 93-year-old quipped as barber Steve Iblings cut his hair.
“I thank you for this, Steve,” the elderly man said.
At 7 a.m. Saturday, the shaggy-haired DeFrang walked in as the first customer in more than two months at Steve’s Lake Stevens Barber Shop. Iblings opened his shop Saturday just for the World War II veteran, before welcoming the public back for much-needed haircuts Monday.
DeFrang’s daughter-in-law, Rebecca DeFrang,was up early to drive the Lake Stevens man to his hastily arranged appointment a day after Gov. Jay Inslee gave the green light Friday for Snohomish County to enter Phase 2 — which eased restrictions on businesses, including hair salons. For weeks, many businesses were closed as part of the statewide “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Due to his age, DeFrang is part of a demographic at high risk of serious complications or death from the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, COVID-19 had claimed 153 lives in Snohomish County.
“He hasn’t been out of the house except for two doctor’s appointments,” Rebecca DeFrang said Saturday. She helps and watches over her father-in-law, a widower who lives next door on the property where she and her husband, Dr. Robert DeFrang, make their home.
Avoiding the virus is another challenging chapter in a long life filled with service, sacrifice and family.
A Port Angeles native, DeFrang was a skinny kid who’d just turned 18 when he joined the Army in 1945. On Tuesday, he sat down with Rebecca to talk about his time in the military. A private first class with the 86th Infantry Division, he was on attached service to other units as well.
He spent 11 months in the Philippines, where he trained scouts. Later on Okinawa, Japan, DeFrang said he was in charge of Japanese prisoners of war. He recalled his return voyage on a troop ship, via the Aleutian Islands, as the roughest ride he’d ever had.
After the war, he spent 40 years at PenPly, or Peninsula Plywood, in Port Angeles, where he was a lathe operator and became a shareholder. He and his wife raised three children, Robert, Danny and Debbie. Lorraine “Rainy” DeFrang, his wife of 60 years, died in 2012.
Since 2003, when he moved to Lake Stevens to be closer to his sons, he’s been a devoted member of Lake Stevens Ebenezer Lutheran Church and the American Legion Post 181.
Tom Thorleifson, a past commander of the post, said DeFrang is one of a very few remaining World War II veterans who’ve been with the post. “We’ve lost so many in the area the last five years,” he said.
For 15 years, DeFrang handed out poppy lapel pins every Memorial Day weekend at the Tom Thumb Grocery in Lake Stevens. The annual event raises money to support American Legion programs. He missed it this year, due to the virus.
He missed getting his hair cut, too.
“He’s been asking for a haircut every day for two months,” Rebecca DeFrang said Saturday, as Iblings — wearing a mask and a plastic face shield — clipped and snipped his masked customer.
The scene was far different than what’s happened in recent weeks at The Stag barber shop in Snohomish. There, owner Bob Martin, 79, kept cutting hair despite the statewide shutdown. His customers were draped with an American flag cape, and neither Martin nor many of his clients wore masks.
“It’s his stand to take. He’s old-school,” was all Iblings would say about the Snohomish barber.
Both DeFrang and Iblings followed the stay-home order, which cost the Lake Stevens barber several months of income. A local small business grant, Iblings said, will help him pay three months of back rent.
Clear plastic shower curtains now hang between each station at Iblings’ shop, where barber chairs are at least six feet apart. Customers’ names are put on a list inside, and people wait in their cars outside until it’s their turn. “Bob’s number one on the list,” the barber said Saturday.
“The days of having 15 people in the shop are over,” said Iblings, who’s been at his current location near Frontier Village for 11 years. His shop was previously in downtown Lake Stevens for 20 years.
Children of the Great Depression, DeFrang’s generation knew sacrifice. His brother Donald DeFrang, who died in 2012, was wounded while fighting with the Army in Europe during World War II, and received the Purple Heart. Another brother, Kenneth DeFrang, served in the Navy during the war.
And the 19-year-old brother of Bob DeFrang’s wife, James Shamp, was one of 687 Navy men killed in the sinking of the USS Juneau. The light cruiser was hit by a Japanese torpedo during the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Juneau’s loss is well known because of five brothers, the Sullivans of Iowa, who died aboard the ship in the South Pacific.
Bob DeFrang has lived through much — the Depression, war and times of other epidemics — and has weathered loss. On Saturday, he was a cheerful customer telling his barber about watching Ebenezer Lutheran’s worship services online. “Virtual church, that’s working good for me,” he said.
Iblings told DeFrang it might take a few cuts to get his thick head of gray hair back in perfect shape. “Boy, I’m glad to get rid of it,” DeFrang replied
When it came time to pay, the barber told his first customer to instead donate the money to the American Legion.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.