George Blodgett sat back in the barber's chair, shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
He assumed his pal Tony Soliz, ever the practical joker, was pulling his leg.
"Ah, come on, you can't quit,'' Blodgett told his barber and friend of nearly 50 years. "After all this time, I finally got you to cut my hair the right way. How am I going to train someone new?''
At age 84, after 64 years of barbering (57 full time), Soliz will retire in April. The fixture on Moline's 15th Street, said it's time to do a few things while he still is in great health. "I went to the dentist, and the nice lady there thought I was only 60,'' Soliz said. "And I didn't have to pay her. I have my health -- never taken any medication for anything -- and I have traveling and things to do. I have my projects, my wood carving, and I'll continue to paint.''
Aside from his family, there are two loves in Soliz's life, golf and painting. His painting is known worldwide, especially his works of famous golfers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Gary Player. He is owner of four holes-in-one and is one of life's all-time great storytellers.
"First, people have been great to me,'' said Soliz, who has three U.S. Navy tours of duty in the Korean War to his credit. "That's the best part of my business, getting to know the great people who have put bread and butter on my table. I appreciate everyone who has trusted me to cut their hair, but it's been much more. It's been personal, that's what happens in this business. They aren't customers, they are family.''
Ever modest, Soliz grudgingly acknowledged several celebrities have crossed his path through the years. Most from the golf world, wanting a hand-painted "Soliz'' for their wall.
"Golf has allowed me to meet many people of fame,'' said Soliz. "And I gave Bob Hope his first Whitey's (ice cream) malt. Locally, I cut the hair of (local TV legend) Thom Cornelis when he had hair.''
Tony's Barber Shop also has been a safe-haven for young people through the years. Children of friends have sought "Uncle Tony's'' advice on a variety of subjects, and students across the area have stopped at Tony's for help with a particular subject.
"I had a couple of young guys argue with their father and came in and said they were leaving town,'' Soliz said. "After I asked them what they had in their pockets and pointed out what life on the road was going to be like, both of them asked me to write them an excuse for being late to school. They turned out fine.''
And speaking of school ...
"I was the (Spanish class) homework network,'' Soliz said. "Everyone would come here after school when they were struggling with their Spanish. I loved helping.''
Aside from barbering and mentoring, Soliz's biggest community assist was with the Hero Street Monument Project. His was a calming influence after a rocky period in which the monument stood half-finished. Soliz led the charge to see it completed. "There were some great people involved,'' he said. "It just got off-course. I take great pride in that I helped get it finished. All it needed was to get back going on the right direction.''
There will be an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. April 21 at Moline's Riverside United Methodist Church to honor Soliz. From there, it is a golf trip to Texas to visit his brother.
"Who knows after that,'' Soliz said. "I'll stay busy, I'll stay involved, I'll be around.''
And anytime Tony Soliz is "around,'' it is a good thing.
Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or email@example.com.
Today is Tuesday, March 11, the 70th day of 2014. There are 295 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done by hogs that are running at large about town. The marshal will take them up and sell them if their owners do not contain them. 1889 -- 125 years ago: George Newberry, Daniel Strecker, Al Webb and James Dixon returned from a voyage down the Mississippi River as far as Memphis, Tenn., on a flat. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Augustana College was put out of the running for the state collegiate basketball title when defeated by Millikin. The Viking lineup included Sten, Samuelson and Swanbeck, forwards, and Holtgren, Johnson and Berg, guards. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The coronation of Pope Pius XII and preliminary ceremonies were broadcast by WHBF on the Mutual Radio Network. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Reactivation of a portion of the J.I. Case Co, plant in Rock Island as a supplier for component parts for the firm's manufacturing centers at Racine, Wis., or Burlington, Iowa, is under consideration. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Downtown Moline business owners will have a chance to help shape the city's future through a survey being done by the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission.