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Joseph T. Ippolito, 85, University Heights barber for 50 years

June 1, 1934 – Nov. 11, 2019

Joseph T. Ippolito, a barber for half a century who owned a popular barbershop in Buffalo's University Heights neighborhood, died Monday in Absolut Care of East Aurora after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

Mr. Ippolito had a hard time giving up barbering, and his clients had a hard time giving up their barber.

At age 62, Mr. Ippolito tried to slow down. He cut his business hours and entered semi-retirement. But he ended up seeing just as many clients as before – and in three days instead of five.

About 12 years later, he tried to hang up his clippers again. But as he was packing his things and getting ready to close up shop, he realized he wasn't ready to walk away from customers he had spent his whole life with – customers whose hair he had cut for their graduations and weddings and were now grandparents.

"My father was a man of few words. He looked at me and said ‘This is really hard,'" said his son Michael Ippolito.

So Michael and his brother Joseph collected their father's barber equipment and converted a shed on Mr. Ippolito's property into a barbershop. The customers who had visited Joe's Barbershop at 14 Winspear Ave. for decades began faithfully journeying to Mr. Ippolito's backyard in Elma. He went on happily that way until 2013, when Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for him to continue.

A graduate of Bishop Timon High School, he met the former Rita Dabney at Louie's Soda Bar in Lovejoy. They married and she joined him at Fort Carson, Colo., where he was stationed in the Army. When they returned to Buffalo, Mr. Ippolito worked at the Loblaw's grocery store before going to barber school. He cut hair at a place called Gilbert's before opening his own shop in 1962.

A Buffalo resident until 2006, he and Mrs. Ippolito renovated and remodeled every home they lived in, including two different Victorian houses on Ashland Avenue. They loved architecture and interior design. Though the couple traveled as far as Europe and Asia in later life, some of their favorite times were on road trips to see the historic mansions of Wilmington, Del., and Newport, R.I. They also loved to drive and watch the fall leaves change color.

Though traditional barber's hours left Mr. Ippolito with just Sundays and Wednesdays off, the family often rented a cottage in Ontario, while he commuted from Canada to his barber shop each day. One night after returning from work, he surprised his eight-year-old daughter Annette with a trip to Crystal Beach.

"I'll just never forget it," she said. "He took me on the yellow roller coaster."

Later, when Annette (now Annette Walter) moved to Puerto Rico, her parents came to visit. More than 60 years old, Mr. Ippolito was up for anything – including the jet skis.

"He was a kid at heart," she said.

When Alzheimer's set in, she watched the father she knew slip away. In Mr. Ippolito's final days, the waves of visitors who came to say goodbye included several workers who had cared for him at Absolut Care in Orchard Park, where he had lived with dementia. Many cried; all of them told him they loved him.

"Even when he had this terrible disease, he was still touching lives," Michael Ippolito said.

One retired Absolut worker drove in a snowstorm all the way from Ontario.

"In our eyes, he was gone," Annette Walter said. "But even in his weakest state, he was just a remarkable man."

Mr. Ippolito was predeceased by his wife of 64 years. In addition to his sons and daughter, he is survived by 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be held at a later date.

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