Henry ‘Hank’ Obrzut, who ran the Skokie Hairem beauty salon with his family, dead at 87

His wife Joanne also did hair. Their sons swept up. Their daughter did makeup. Many relatives and friends worked there during the 25 years the family operated the business.

SHARE Henry ‘Hank’ Obrzut, who ran the Skokie Hairem beauty salon with his family, dead at 87
Henry “Hank” Obrzut, who owned and operated the Skokie Hairem hair salon.

Henry “Hank” Obrzut, who owned and operated the Skokie Hairem hair salon.

Provided

In the 1960s, Henry “Hank” Obrzut made customers happy at Skokie Hairem, his hair salon, by giving them Jackie Kennedy bouffants, mod Beatle cuts and shaggy hippie looks.

Later, in the 1980s, he would give them the same big hair as their favorite MTV stars.

For a while in the 1970s, “He tried to be like Warren Beatty in ‘Shampoo,’ ” according to his son Mike. He’d sport a concho belt and gold chains as he zoomed to the Hairem on his motorcycle.

In those disco days, he took dance lessons and at one point was crouched down, dancing, when the instructor told him, “Get down, Henry!”

Mr. Obrzut shouted back: “I’m down as low as I can go!”

Beneath the disco dash, he was a guy who married his high school sweetheart and went to all of his kids’ special events.

“If I could write a thing on his gravestone, it would be, ‘He was always there,’ ” his son said — “any play performance, any football game, any dance recital.”

Mr. Obrzut, 87, died of lung disease April 28 in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where he’d retired.

He grew up in Belmont Cragin during an industrial era when the soybean-processing plant near Grand and Laramie sometimes perfumed the neighborhood with a strong cheesy odor.

Mr. Obrzut was fond of saying, “ ‘When I grew up, things were always very simple: Roosevelt was always president, Joe Louis was always champ, and the Yankees always won the pennant.’ ”

His grandfather Joseph Piotrowski, who was from Lublin, Poland, “was a junkman for the city,” Mike Obrzut said. “He had horses in the garage.”

Young Hank attended St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr grade school, where he played clarinet in the band. He’d go swimming at Riis Park and skate at the old Riverview roller rink at Belmont and Western.

He played baseball in Northwest Side parks at a time when the games were being dominated by a kid named Moose Skowron, a future pro ballplayer who would go on to play for a time in the 1960s with the White Sox and, before that, was a five-times World Series champion with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mr. Obrzut’s follicular fashion was already apparent at Foreman High School, where, his son said, “He was always in the locker mirror, combing his hair.”

At Foreman, he started dating Joanne Dubel. After graduation, they got married in 1955 at St. Veronica Church, then honeymooned in Miami Beach and Havana. Mike was born 14 months later.

Henry “Hank” Obrzut and his wife Joanne on their wedding day in 1955.

Henry “Hank” Obrzut and his wife Joanne on their wedding day in 1955.

Provided

He enjoyed being a young dad. He said he felt like he and his kids — sons Mike and Tony and daughter Pati — grew up together.

The Obrzuts raised their family on Drummond Place and belonged to St. Genevieve parish. He liked taking the kids to Honey Hill Beach in Wauconda, where he and his wife had gone on their prom picnic.

Giving his handyman skills a shot, he once filled in the opening around a spiral staircase in his home, creating a “ceiling” to give his sons a private apartment in the basement. Then, one Christmas season, the ceiling broke through when Hank Obrzut’s mother Helen walked over it.

“I run out there, I see my brother holding my grandma in his arms, and she’s got the Pall Mall cigarette between her lips,” Mike Obrzut said.

Without missing a beat, she said: “Santa came down a little early, boys.”

Mr. Obrzut studied at a barber school near Chicago’s old Skid Row on West Madison Street, sometimes doing makeovers for men who’d been living on the street.

He used his car as collateral for a loan to open the salon in Skokie at Church Street and East Prairie Avenue. His wife was the one who suggested that he expand from being just a men’s barber to doing women’s hair.

“He would have to learn on the fly,” his son said, “because, after every Academy Awards show, customers would come in and say, ‘I want my hair like so-and-so.’ ”

The salon was a family affair. His wife also did hair. Their sons swept up, and their daughter did makeup. Lots of relatives and friends worked there during the 25 years the family operated the business.

Mr. Obrzut loved to laugh, and “he really liked his customers at the beauty shop,” his son said. “And he and my mom went to many weddings and bar mitzvahs.”

He and his wife used to go out on Saturday nights to hear music at the Bitter End club on the Northwest Side.

After his wife died in 1979, he kept operating the Hairem until the mid-1980s.

His favorite authors were Ernest Hemingway and Tom Clancy. He loved James Bond films, the “Godfather” movies and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

“He saw ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ 13 times at the show,” his son said. “When ‘The Godfather’ marathons were on cable, he’d watch the films back to back.”

Mr. Obrzut even knew the license plate numbers of the cars in Connie Corleone’s wedding scene.

When his son was sleeping on the couch, Mr. Obrzut would pretend to be Eli Wallach’s “Tuco” character in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” begging, “Blondie, don’t die!”

“We used to wrestle and fight,” his son said, “and he would pretend to stick his thumbs in our eye sockets,” imitating another scene from that movie.

“One of the best things he ever taught me,” Mike Obrzut said, “was never get depressed about anything that can be replaced with money.”

Mr. Obrzut’s favorite travel destinations were Ireland and Greece.

In 2005, Mr. Obrzut retired to Florida. When a hurricane threatened his home in Cocoa Beach, a friend from his old neighborhood in Chicago — who’d moved to Tampa — drove more than 250 miles to ferry Mr. Obrzut to Tampa so he could ride out the storm in safety.

He loved the White Sox. And, during football season, he’d make weekly calls to his son to lament the status of the Bears.

Henry “Hank” Obrzut with (from left) his son Tony, daughter Pati Coy and son Mike, holding grandson Mike.

Henry “Hank” Obrzut with (from left) his son Tony, daughter Pati Coy and son Mike, holding grandson Mike.

Provided

In addition to his sons Mike and Tony and daughter Pati Coy, Mr. Obrzut is survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

As a teenager, he’d take the bus to the South Side to buy jazz records by Wes Montgomery and Illinois Jacquet. He was cremated with a CD by Jacquet.

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