The lights are now off at 900 Niles St. You sense a sadness to the structure that once was an unofficial community center of pride, joy and hope for so many.
You may have passed the brick building a hundred times and never realized the uniqueness of the services or man within. The innocuous building seems out of place on the edge of the east Bakersfield neighborhood standing on the corner of Beale Avenue and Niles.
It was probably one of the only places on planet earth where you could get your taxes done while getting a haircut.
The services at Salazar’s Barber Shop and Tax Preparation were as unique as its owner, Becilio “Sal” Salazar. The Salazar children lost their dad and Lucia lost her husband due to complications from COVID-19 two weeks ago. He went into the hospital Friday, Jan. 22, and was gone Saturday, Jan. 23. He was 74 years young. They lost their beloved father and husband. Our community lost a giant advocate for youth, education and family.
As Sal intended, he was not well known in your typical “A” circle of high-profile community activists or politicians. By design, Sal was definitely low profile. To borrow a definition from my friend Magda Menendez, “A good community organizer is not seen.” That was Sal.
Because of his early dedication and devotion to the beginnings of Kern County soccer and to the hundreds if not thousands of children he helped coach, fund and emotionally support, Sal could have been Kern County’s unofficial soccer emissary.
Pete Fox, a retiree from the Bakersfield Police Department, has known Sal for 40 years and commented: “Sal was a local soccer icon. There are hundreds of kids, who because of Sal, were exposed to, played and enjoyed soccer.” He added, “Sal would quietly pay for uniforms, soccer uniforms and gear for his teams.” Pete also states, “Sal was one of few coaches in the region who qualified for a National C Coaching License.” Very prestigious.
Sal was not a public speaker. He preferred his barber shop audience, a field full of soccer kids or bantering with his buddies and lifelong friends like Raul Rangel. Raul, a retired educator, remembers meeting Sal for the first time. On a recommendation from a friend, Raul went to Sal for a haircut. He remembers leaving with a great haircut and a new lifelong friend.
Raul states: “Everything in Sal’s barber shop is a microcosm of his life and the things he loved most. Trophies, soccer pictures, family photos. I wish more people knew about Sal’s education.”
According to Sal’s son Ricardo, his dad was a Bakersfield College graduate and went on earn his bachelor of arts degree and to be one of the first members of California State University Bakersfield graduating classes in 1972. He earned his master’s in business administration in 1976.
Ricardo proudly lists myriad board memberships to which his dad served: Junior Baseball Association, Girls Soccer league, YMCA, Golden Empire Soccer League and many more. All are testaments to Sal’s dedication to youth and our community. Soccer and Sal accompanied all his children as they succeeded in college. Ricardo also remembers his Dad always being on the sidelines encouraging him and his siblings. His coaching legacy spans many high schools, clubs Bakersfield College and women’s adult soccer leagues.
Sal’s most high-profile community activist effort came when several years ago he played a major role in preventing Heritage Park from being absorbed by Kern County’s Juvenile Hall. This move would have taken much-needed soccer practice space for his kids.
Sal also served in the United State Marine Corps during the height of the Vietnam conflict. His favorite hobbies were going to the movies and concerts. And if you could ask him, he would tell you he was once a racquetball legend.
There are never enough words for me to do justice to a father, friend and quiet community advocate like Sal.
I pray for more Sals and those who would be like him. Sals who would serve as role models and prefer to do rather than be seen. And Sals who do so not for recognition or political favor, but whose reward is the success of those served.
Imagine how much better our community would be with more Sals.