A historic haircut: Santa Rosa man toasts Obama with first trim in five years

Nov. 4, 2008 is a day Milton “Whitey” Sterman will remember forever. But it’s not exactly for the reason you’d think.

On that day, the day Democratic candidate Barack Obama was elected president, Sterman — known to everyone as Whitey — got the OK to cut his disheveled hair, which had been growing wildly for nearly five years.

Or, to put it more bluntly, growing wildly since former President George W. Bush was elected to a second term.  

 “If McCain had won, I wouldn’t have cut it,” said Sterman, 79, of Santa Rosa. “I feel very strongly about what I did. And everyone says when I take my hat off, I look 10 years younger!”

On Jan. 25, more than 70 people gathered at Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa to bid farewell to Sterman’s white mop at his upsherin, a strand-snipping ceremony usually reserved for 3-year-old Jewish (commonly Orthodox) boys.

The Reform synagogue, where Sterman has been a member since 1969, turned the haircut into a temple-wide fundraiser called “Snip and Schnorr,” giving anyone the chance to trim a piece of his hair for a price. And with a room full of synagogue members and Sterman’s family, gym pals and fellow ombudsmen at Sonoma County Senior Advocacy Services, everyone was eager to cut a lock.

Those wanting a small snip or a big snip purchased tickets valued at $1 or $10 respectively, while Sterman’s son, Jeffery Sterman, auctioned off opportunities to take whacks at his father’s hair with the clippers.

Milton “Whitey” Sterman lets Beth Ami member Barbara Tomin take a “snip” of his hair before getting his new ‘do. photos | courtesy of patty bernstein

By the end of the event, Sterman’s hair had garnered more than $1,000 in donations for Beth Ami’s librarian’s salary fund and the Senior Advocacy ombudsman program. He even got a free haircut to “clean up” his look afterward.


“My head is cold now that my hair is gone,” Sterman said with a laugh. “But it was great to raise some funds. I’d do it again, but I hope I never have to.”

Jeffery Sterman admitted his father was embarrassed at first by the large turnout, but being the kind-hearted man he is, he got over it pretty fast.

“He’s got that Jewish spirit,” Jeffery Sterman said. “He really lives by making the world a better place for others. That’s his philosophy of life. You see it in his volunteerism. He’s always there to lend a hand.”

On any given day, Whitey Sterman can be found exercising at his local gym, assisting nursing home residents or talking politics, somewhat expected from a guy who calls himself “left of the Democrats, right of the Communists.”

“On Inauguration Day, I got up at 4 a.m., switched on my favorite station, MSNBC, and got a little bit choked up,” Sterman said. “I’m really proud that an African American and a Democrat won. It was amazing.”