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PEORIA, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — Kenny Cross lived a long time without knowing how deep his roots as a barber ran in his family. In fact he says it was “unreal” when he found out as an adult he was next in a generation of barbers that came before him.

That unreal story will be adding a Peoria chapter now that Cross has opened his newest barbershop just outside the city.

Cross spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force between 1993-2001, with deployments including Kuwait, Italy and Panama. When he returned home to Ohio he was not entirely sure what to do with himself.

He spent a year working as a lumberjack with his uncle and was planning on becoming an Ohio state trooper. But the odd hours of lumberjacking and policing were not very appealing to him. His brother-in-law, on the other hand, was working as a barber and seemed to live a very happy life with a relatively normal schedule. Cross thought he might try that.

Having enrolled in barber college, paid for by the GI Bill, Cross was driving with his uncle on his last day as a lumberjack when his uncle said something that shocked him: “You know your dad and grandpa were barbers, right?”

Cross didn’t have a clue.

Both his father and grandfather died when Cross was young. His parents divorced when he was only eight months old, so he did not know much about either of them. But as coincidence or fate would have it, Cross had much more in common with both of them than he realized.

“It’s in the blood, you know,” Cross said. “It was crazy. It was hard to believe, it seemed unreal.”

Cross’ Sportsmans Barbershop at 4712 W. Farmington Road just outside city limits, is not the combat veteran’s first venture into owning his own barbershop, but it will be his first in Illinois.

Cross opened his first store in Newton Falls, Ohio, and soon after that opened a second location in Howland, Ohio. He operated the stores for 12 years before he sold them and moved to Colorado where his wife got a job.

Cross’ daughter, one of four children he has, is in dental school in Peoria and seemed to be enjoying the area, so he and his wife moved to the River City.

An avid hunter and fisherman, all of his stores, including his Peoria location, are themed with hunting and fishing gear decorating the walls. ESPN or an outdoor channel can usually be found on TV.

Sportsman’s Barbershop offers haircuts of any style, as well as beard trims and a shave with a straight razor, hot lather and hot towel.

Cross’ time in the military also has an influence on what can be seen in the shop. Patches from his time in the Air Force and other military memorabilia hang on the walls along with the hunting and fishing décor.

In the Air Force, Cross worked as an M-60 machine gunner, a 203 grenadier, an elite gate guardsmen and in nuclear weapons security in Minot, S.D. Some of what he learned in the military has translated into business ownership.

“Discipline, organization, manners,” Cross said he carries with him. “It just gives me the discipline to take care of the priorities that are mandatory. But yeah, it’s great experience.”

His time in the military is also the reason one of Cross’ other friends hangs out with him around the shop: his service dog Ripp.

Ripp is a friendly, 2 1/2-year-old, yellow Lab, who Cross says is a “great dog.” If you ever decide to go see Cross for a haircut or beard trim, be sure to say hello to Ripp also. That is, if he isn’t napping on his bed in the corner.

(c)2021 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

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