St. Ann students pay it forward to Missouri Marine
By Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
Whatever you do, don’t call them “former Marines.”
Such individuals — not by law, but U.S. Marine Corps tradition — do not exist. They are veteran or retired Marines. But they are always Marines, and Marines stick up for each other.
Just ask Tom Marker, a retired Marine who served in Afghanistan and, after honorable service, settled in Greenwood. Mo., and opened a barber shop. And just ask Marty VanHaasteren.
VanHaasteren, 84, lives in Lake Winnebago, Mo., just south of Greenwood, and stopped by Marker’s shop, called “Buzzed,” for a haircut. As Marker snipped away, VanHaasteren noticed Marine paraphernalia on the walls and counters.
“So I asked a brilliant question: ‘Were you in the Marines?’” said VanHaasteren with a chuckle.
“Tom said, ‘Yes.’”
Turns out, so was VanHaasteren — but more than 50 years separate the men’s service. VanHaasteren served in the Pacific from 1946 to 1948, at the end of World War II. The 30-year-old Marker served in Afghanistan in 2004.
They bonded over their allegiance to their Marines, and VanHaasteren decided to spread the word about the new barber in the hopes of drumming up some business for him.
“There’s something about the Marine Corps,” VanHaasteren said. “It sticks with you. We help one another.”
When he shared his experience at the young Marine’s shop with his grandchildren — 13-year-old Henry and 11-year-old Sam Danneberg, who live in Prairie Village — the two boys started thinking of ways they might help.
“He’s got a wife, three girls and a baby on the way,” said VanHaasteren. “They took no financing and used whatever savings they had to get the store going.”
“We have to pay him back,” he encouraged.
Henry and Sam started kicking around ways they might help, then decided they needed a little assistance from their friends.
“I thought it would be great to help someone who served our country,” said Henry.
Henry plays on the eighth-grade CYO team for St. Ann School in Prairie Village. He sent an email inviting his football teammates to join him — for a haircut.
The response was overwhelmingly positive.
In early August, Henry and Sam’s father Tim called Marker and explained the plan.
“I thought it was one of those too-good-to-be-true things,” said Marker. “Not much stuff seems to be free.”
They scheduled the visit for late afternoon on Aug. 10.
Marker got a little nervous when Friday rolled around and he hadn’t heard anything from Danneberg. But at 4 p.m., a caravan of 20 boys, including 13 football players and their siblings, arrived after a 45-minute journey to give Marker’s shears a workout.
It took three-and-a-half hours to finish the 20 cuts. Marker did them all himself.
“That was definitely a furious three hours,” Marker said. “The biggest thing I was worried about was being quick enough.”
Marker stocks his shop with items to amuse his customers and stimulate conversation — stuff like the Marines memorabilia that intrigued VanHaasteren — so the boys were entertained as they waited their turn.
St. Ann eighth-grader John Ryan, one of the last in line, didn’t mind the wait.
“We hung out, talked and played checkers,” he said.
It was worth the wait. John said it was the best cut he’d ever had.
Henry and Sam were equally pleased with their cuts, and Sam didn’t even need one. He went because he wanted to help Marker.
“I didn’t have much done to my hair because I had it cut the week before,” Sam said.
The boys had such a good time, they plan to return at least once, said John.
That’s exactly what Marker strives for.
“If I can get nine out of 10 people to come back, within a couple months I’ll have more business than I’ll know what to do with,” he said.
His customers have increased steadily since the shop opened last April. But the boys’ visit generated some much-appreciated publicity — and several new customers, in addition to the boys.
Marker is very appreciative of the youngsters’ gesture and heartened by their desire to help.
“It gives me hope,” Marker said. “I think it’s great that those kids made it happen. They’re nice kids. They’re down-to-earth, and I’m looking forward to going to their football games.”
St. Ann School principal Becky Ackright wasn’t at all surprised to learn of the generous gesture by the group of eighth-grade boys.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Ackright. “I don’t mean to brag, but this is pretty typical of our kids. They are very loving and giving kids.”
The gesture fits with the school year’s theme, which is, “Faith: Love it. Learn it. Live it.”
“They were living it,” Ackright said proudly.
“And I love their haircuts!”