Rudolph Neil Wettengel, a well-known Towson barber for 50 years, died of pulmonary fibrosis Thursday at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Lutherville resident was 76.
Mr. Wettengel was born and raised in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood and, like his father and two brothers, decided to become a barber. He attended city public schools, and after graduating from barber's school in Baltimore, started cutting hair in the early 1950s at a shop in Waverly.
In 1953, he went to work for John Harrell, owner of the Towson Barber Shop on York Road. After Mr. Harrell's death, Mr. Wettengel managed the business for Mr. Harrell's widow.
After the shop closed in the early 1970s, Mr. Wettengel began cutting hair for Ken Smith, owner of the Alleghany Barber Shop at 11 W. Pennsylvania Ave. The four-chair shop, next to the old Penn Hotel, was popular with county politicians, government workers and lawyers, not to mention ordinary folks in need of a haircut or shave.
When Mr. Smith retired in the mid-1970s, Mr. Wettengel purchased the business and continued operating it until the late 1980s, when construction of Towson Commons forced its move to Chesapeake Avenue. After selling his shop in 2000, he retired.
Mr. Wettengel was an old-fashioned barber who believed in tight haircuts, shaved necks rendered with a sharp straight razor, and plenty of splashes of bay rum to take away the sting. If asked, he'd recommend his two favorite hair tonics: Kreml and Lucky Tiger.
"Neil liked his work and he liked people," said his wife of 54 years, the former Doris Mae Torbit. "If he locked the shop at the end of the day and saw someone on the street who said they needed a haircut, he'd go back and open up and take care of them."
On Wednesdays and Sundays, Mr. Wettengel traveled to area retirement communities and nursing homes, cutting hair for customers who could no longer make it to his shop.
Active in Masonic affairs, he was a 49-year member of Mount Moriah Lodge and was a member of the Baltimore Forest of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.
A self-taught organist who played by ear, Mr. Wettengel was organist for the Grand Chapter of the Maryland Order of the Eastern Star.
He was an accomplished carpenter who built the porch on his home and an avid gardener who was known for his tomatoes and had the nickname of "Tomato Man."
He was a member of Towson United Methodist Church, 501 Hampton Lane, where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.
Also surviving are a brother, Robert Wettengel of Lutherville; a sister, Virginia Euler of Gardenville; and several nieces and nephews.