“They say ND calls you”: LaFortune barber discusses 26 years of service
Claire Rafford | Thursday, September 20, 2018
Nestled in the corner of the basement of LaFortune Student Center, amidst the wafting scents of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, sits the LaFortune barbershop. The small room is plastered in pictures of everything from the Golden Dome to motorcycles. On a table sits a red tin full of Hershey’s kisses for the women who pass through the shop.
The iconic shop is home to barber Frank Franco, 76, who has been cutting hair at the University for 26 years.
The art of cutting hair is a family business for Franco — his father was a barber as well in Franco’s hometown of Alliance, Ohio.
“I grew up in a barbershop, my dad was a barber,” Franco said. “He made me go to barber school and then he wouldn’t hire me. He actually wanted me to use barbering to go through college, to pay my own way through college.”
After attending barber school in Akron, Ohio, Franco enrolled in Kent State University. Shortly after graduating college, he was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War. He was actually drafted twice, once while he was still in school and once barely a month after his college graduation.
“The first time they drafted me, I was in Cleveland at the center and I kept telling them, you can’t draft me because for 12 more hours, I’m a bonafide student, no matter what I’m taking,” Franco said. “So they sent me home. As soon as I graduated, wasn’t a month when I saw the mailman deliver something, and I saw him give it a second look, so I knew what it was. I went back up and they knew who I was.”
Franco served from 1967-1969 at the Overseas Replacement Center in Fort Lewis, Washington. He got married when he realized that he was not going to be deployed overseas, and after he got out of the army in 1969, began to work in business. He moved to South Bend from his home in Ohio to work for a fluid controls manufacturing company.
“I came to town to work for South Bend Controls,” Franco said. “I worked for a couple of companies, did some budgets for them but I got tired of working for companies and doing things for them.”
Franco’s coming to Notre Dame is a story he says most people would not believe.
“I was a little bit worried, out of work and some people won’t believe this but they say ND calls you,” Franco said. “In the middle of the night, I heard a voice telling me to get [myself] up here. So I was up here by 9:00 the next morning with that idea, only to learn that they already had a barbershop.”
That barbershop was run by Joe D’Angelo, known among students as “ROTC Joe.”
“The gentleman told me to come down and meet Joe D’Angelo, or ROTC Joe,” Franco said. “Joe and I got on pretty well, and he told me a secret nobody knew yet: he was retiring. And no one around the school knew that. That was 26 years ago and I’ve been here ever since.”
After more than two and a half decades of cutting hair in LaFortune, and even more before that, Franco has his practice down to a science.
“My routine is just to come, get ready and cut hair,” Franco said.
Franco said he sees anywhere from 20 to 25 customers each day — mostly students, but a mix of faculty, clergy and other administration as well.
“The haircut styles haven’t changed,” he said. “Not much has changed in the last 26 years. My pricing has changed, it’s gone up, but not a lot has changed.”
Though not much about his haircuts has changed, the Notre Dame campus has changed a great deal in the past few decades.
“The footprint has gotten much bigger,” Franco said. “If you think of a size 8 shoe [back then], I think it’s about a size fifteen now.”
When asked what his favorite thing about cutting hair in LaFortune is, Franco said over everything else, he likes the variety of his job.
“The atmosphere keeps me young, because I think I’m older than I look,” he said. “My wife will tell you I’m older than I act.”