Longtime Noyes Street barber dies at 74

Sara Peck

On the last Saturday of his life, Fred Booge did what he had done for the past 55 years: He went to work at the Noyes Street Barber Shop.

Though he had retired six years earlier and passed the shop’s ownership to his son, Manny, the German-American barber continued to work every Friday and Saturday, even when a broken pelvis confined him to a walker. The last haircut he gave that day was to a Northwestern alumnus – one of the regulars – who brought his young son along. While Fred snipped and shaved, Manny cut the little boy’s hair on his final day of work with his father.

“He never missed a day of work,” said Manny, 37. “He always went no matter what. He figured that if the customer made the time to come in, he should make the time to be there.”

Fred Booge, 74, died on March 18 of natural causes.

Yet almost 50 years ago Fred bought the barbershop, which sits between Sherman Avenue and Maple Avenue at 916 Noyes St. A red, white and blue barber’s poll swirls in the glass window beside tall, white, upholstered old-fashioned barber chairs. Behind the simple black, white and wood-paneled interior was a “debonair” man who loved black-and-white gowns, ballroom dancing and the ritual Sunday “coffee and cake day” with his three sons and grandchildren, said Anna Booge, his wife of 48 years.

In 1960, Fred bought the barbershop and a house in Des Plaines, Ill., where Anna still lives. Fred’s parents owned a combination barber and beauty shop in Hamburg, and Fred worked there as a boy.

The shop, operated by the father-and-son duo soon nicknamed the “Noyes Boys,” serves a steady crowd of NU students who return even after they have left Evanston, some traveling from the far western suburbs for a cut and shave, Anna said. Among the regulars were two former NU football players who graduated in 1955 and counted Fred among their “best friends,” Manny said.

One 89-year-old man has been coming to the shop for more than 60 years, even before Fred bought the business from the original owner.

“It’s like walking into the 1950s, but not in the sense that everyone wants to be taken back to that time,” Manny explained. “It’s about the idea that you pay for what you get and that if it’s not what you want, we’ll be sure to fix it.”

David Rankin received his first haircut at Fred’s shop when he was a NU freshman in 1995. Though he has since moved to Rogers Park, Rankin still gets “an old-fashioned straight-razor neck shave” from Manny every month at the shop.

“You could tell by the conversation (between Fred and his ‘regulars’) and the ease of the banter that there were decades of friendship there,” he said. “I’d pay double, frankly. (The shop) is such a value to the community, and I hope it continues for much longer.”

Anna and Fred met at Chicago’s German-American swimming club when they were 20 and 24 years old, respectively, both having navigated the lakeshore city through its German community.

Anna had left her mother and grandmother behind after she graduated from a girls college in Austria; Fred had moved to Chicago from Hamburg, Germany a few years prior.

Exactly one year after meeting, the couple married in 1960.

“I thought he was really sophisticated – a man of the world,” said Anna of her first impressions. “He was a very good dancer and a great dresser. He was very particular about his clothes and mine, too. He would say, ‘Hey, you look like you just got off the boat,’ if I wore something silly.”

After 11 years of marriage, the couple welcomed son Manny into the family and then twin boys two years later.

Both Fred and his oldest son are named “Manfred,” the nicknames serving to avoid confusion, especially after Manny took over the business in 2003.

Fred is also survived by his three grandchildren, who often came to the cake and coffee Sundays and spent the weekends on his 21-and-a-half-foot boat as it cruised Lake Michigan. Manny’s two children – Mark, 8 and Marie, 6 – remember Christmas family ski trips to Colorado with “Opa” and “Oma,” the German words for grandfather and grandmother.

“He always wanted his family to be number one,” Anna said.

Fred was a passionate father, she explained. As “a very competitive guy,” he helped his sons with soccer, baseball and boating.

“He really pushed us and always gave it everything that he had,” Manny said of his father’s legacy. “It’s going to be a lot harder without him here.”

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