Benton men ready to shave beards following contest at Neighbor Days sesquicentennial celebration

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Jim Simmons, left, and the St. Denis Choir lead the funeral procession of "Jim Razor" in the St. Denis Parish Center Saturday, April 24, 2010 during Benton's sesquicentennial celebration. Over 300 people attended the celebration in the St. Denis Parish Center which included music from Kelly High School Band, Benton historical facts, and the funeral procession. Razor is literally a razor in a coffin that represents the men of Benton who refrain from shaving during the mourning period of four months. At this weekend's Neighbor Days the town will hold a "cutting of the beard". The men of Benton mourn "Jim Razor" every 50 years. (Laura Simon)

BENTON, Mo. -- Several men in Benton ceremoniously "buried" their razors on April 24, kicking off a beard-growing contest to celebrate the town's sesquicentennial.

"I thought this would be something fun to do," said Jim Simmons, one of the participants. "It's been fun watching the other guys' beards grow -- we kind of compare them, and talk about who is trimming theirs and who is not."

Simmons said he decided to grow his beard in the contest, like the one held in Benton's centennial celebration, to show his community spirit.

"It's fun to have an event that's catered to the guys, who usually aren't at the forefront of these activities. It's just been a real blast," he said.

On Saturday, all the men will gather on stage at the Benton ballpark between the junior and senior division of the talent show -- around 7:30 p.m. -- at the annual Neighbor Day, to have their beards judged in three categories: longest, wooliest, and best groomed. Afterward, they will be escorted to a barber chair and be shaved.

And they can't wait.

"I'm ready to get rid of it," said Sterling Proctor. "I've been called a wooly mammoth, sasquatch and everything else."

Ronnie Essner said he, too, has gotten comments on how "wooly" his beard is.

"My wife hates it and I don't like it," he said. "I'm looking forward to it being gone."

Essner said the beard has been itchy, especially with the hot summer. He also said that all the facial hair has aged him "at least 10 years."

However, he gets some fun out of it too.

"I really like the surprise factor," he said. "When people first look at me, they don't know who I am."

Paul Burger said he grew his beard for the contest after Simmons, who also sings in the St. Denis Church Choir, asked for volunteers to participate.

"And I haven't touched it since April 24," he said.

Like Essner, Burger said his biggest complaint in the competition is that the thick beards are itchy in the hot weather.

Proctor, however, said that hasn't been a factor for him.

"I work outside, and the hot weather hasn't made much of a difference to me," he said. While he has had a mustache and goatee for years, Proctor said he's never grown his facial hair to this extent before -- and probably never will again.

"I just wanted to do it because I probably won't get to see the next 50-year one," he said.

All of the men said it's fun to look at the progress of other men's beards.

"They're all looking good," said Burger.

Essner sees a lot of the progress daily, as he works with a handful of men who are also participating in the contest. In fact, they are the ones who convinced him to bury his razor as well.

"They told me 'If you have a 545 phone number, you have to grow it,'" he said. "If I didn't grow mine, I was going to be the odd man out."

No matter how the men came to grow their beards, Christy LeGrand, coordinator of the town's sesquicentennial events, said she's glad to see so much involvement.

"It shows that we've got people out there that are committed to supporting the community," she said. "There have been people I was surprised grew one, and there are others I thought would and didn't. But no matter what, it's a great show of community spirit."

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