Written by Peter G. Sánchez
On Wed., July 26, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services is hosting a Milestone of Life Mass for those individuals 100 years of age or older to celebrate their lives with their families, friends, and caregivers.
If you go, you might run into a current Elmer barber, or a former Westville candy company employee, both enjoying their 100th year on God’s green earth.
A modest Main Street barber shop in Elmer boasts the biggest name in this small Salem County town: Joseph Barca.
Born on May 26, 1917, Barca lived in Glassboro for three years before his family moved back to Sicily. There, he began to learn the craft of cutting hair in a local barbershop and, by the age of 10, was an expert with the scissors and razor.
At 14, he came back to Glassboro and started his own shop in the area with his brother Philip.
After four years in the Air Force during World War II, he opened his current business on Main Street. All told, he has been cutting hair for 90 years, and has no intentions of putting aside the barbacide anytime soon.
“I’m still in good shape, good health,” he says one afternoon in his shop. An old-fashioned cash register; a picture of the Sacred Heart; newspaper clippings chronicling his life; and congratulation letters on his 100th birthday, including one from the current U.S. Commander in Chief and the First Lady, decorate the mirrored room.
Five days a week, Barca takes the 20-minute drive from his Glassboro home (he is a faithful parishioner of Saint Bridget’s University Parish) to Elmer in his 2001 Pontiac Grand Am.
“Instead of staying home, I come to work and talk to people,” he said.
“He’s a true working man in action, a man of faith, with a sharp mind and strong work ethic,” said his son and co-owner of the shop, Joseph.
Frequent visitor Robert Bateman loves the familiarity, and the old-school feel of the place. More than a haircut, the visit provides an opportunity for friends to catch up on each other’s lives, and the community news. “You don’t find these places anymore,” Bateman believes.
For Barca, he’s going to keep trimming sideburns and soul patches as long as he can. He has seen styles come and go, from Brylcreem and blow dryers, from ducktail and buzzcuts to Beatles moptops and shags.
“The secret to my long life is obeying the Lord,” he insists. To hammer that home, he repeats the last words: “Obey the Lord.”
Theresa Concordia shares Joseph Barca’s sentiments. She turned 100 almost two weeks before he, on May 13. “The man upstairs has helped me,” she said. “As well, no drinking or smoking.”
Growing up in South Philly, she lost her mother when she was 16 and took over the care of her three brothers and sister.
Working in a men’s clothing shop, she met her future husband, (now-deceased) Gene, and they married in 1935.
Raising five children, she became an expert cook, preparing homemade pasta, meatballs and Jewish apple cake for Vera, Louis, Ronald, Gene, Jr., and John.
In the late 1970s, she worked for the old Letty Lane candy company in Westville.
Last September, after years of independent living in Mantua (and a longtime parishioner of the Church of the Incarnation), she moved into a nursing home in Paulsboro. Still, her fighting spirit remains.
Noting her standing among her family, as matriarch to five children; 16 grandchildren; 27 great-grandchildren; and eight great-great-grandchildren, she grins. “I’m the chairman of the board.”
If you go:
Mass for centenarians, their families, friends and caregivers will be celebrated at noon on Wednesday, July 26, the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at Saint Joachim Parish, Annunciation Church, Bellmawr. Refreshments and fellowship to follow. To register or for more information call 856-583-6123.Read in Catholic Star Herald