A Hometown Hero: Local barber, boxing coach honored for his community service – The Republic

Former Golden Gloves boxing champ Peter Soler, long trained to watch for surprises from his opponents, was caught totally off guard on a recent afternoon at his fittingly named Columbus Uppercuts barber shop downtown.
The 34-year-old Puerto Rico native once known as the Puerto Rican Hurricane looked up from a haircut to see a line of people, some bearing gifts, streaming into his Washington Street shop unannounced and out of the blue. Among those were his three children, ages 9 to 13, leaving Dad even more surprised and with one serious parental question: “Why aren’t you in school?”
Because they had gotten permission to be on hand when their father, he of the once-tough fists but always soft heart, was honored via a surprise with what is known as the Hometown Hero Award — all while Soler stood with a smiling, dazed expression and arms outstretched in a questioning, “why” kind of pose.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Soler said later of the recognition that was kept secret for weeks.
Columbus resident Erik Barber (yes, his real name) with nonprofit financial services firm Modern Woodmen Fraternal Financial of America put out a social media post recently asking people in Bartholomew County “who is someone who is absolutely crushing it (with volunteerism and community service) but isn’t getting the love you feel like they deserve?”
He asked in connection with the Hometown Hero Award, which he presented to Soler. The firm made a $100 donation to the Police Athletic League youth boxing program in Soler’s name, because the barber has been coaching as a volunteer there for three years and transporting youngsters to matches all over at his own expense. Plus, the nearby Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, which helps downtown residents, businesses and more, pitched in a $100 personal gift to Soler for being such a positive presence in that area.
“These kinds of things are so wonderful,” said Diane Doup of the center.
Barber of the financial service agrees.
“We just wanted to recognize you in front of your family, friends and colleagues, and tell you that we appreciate what you’re doing,” Barber said as a circle of about 20 people broke into raucous applause.
Standing nearby, mom Jannette Soler was asked if her son got his kindness and generosity from her, because he donates free haircuts every summer at Calvary Community Church’s back-to-school picnic and and at other times. The mother smiled and broke into laughter.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m not that nice.”
Truth be told, she is sweet enough that her boy has her first name tattooed on his neck — an action done several years ago that she initially criticized him for.
“But now she tells me, ‘Hey I think it’s starting to fade,” he said. “I think maybe that you need to touch it up.”
What seemingly will never fade, he promises, is his desire to help others — and for the simplest of reasons.
“I am blessed, man,” he said, thanking God and glancing around at his four-chair shop that began with only him. “We stay really busy here all the time. We’ve got a lot of customers.”
He began cutting his own hair at age 12 when Dad Peter Soler regularly gave him the worst of cuts. Within three years, via self-teaching, he began taking professional clippers and cutting friends’ hair for free — and later for $5 per head.
“And remember, that was before YouTube,” he said.
From there, he went to Hair Force barber school in Seymour and became licensed. Interestingly, he began cutting professionally at this very same spot — when it was Coach’s Cutz with Ray Gipson. That barber later moved his shop to 3188 Washington St., freeing up the space.
Just the other day, WDRB-TV of Louisville showed up at his shop after Soler launched a fund to help a local family with expenses after a serious car crash.
“To me, it’s a blessing just to be able to help,” he said of others who may be struggling. “I didn’t know I could have that much effect on others.”
He jokes these days about cutting his father’s hair. When Dad climbs up in the barber chair at Uppercuts, the son laughingly tells him “Hey — I’m gonna give you the same haircut you used to give me.”
“Hey, son,” Dad responds. “I’m paying for this.”
One of the gifts from his family at the impromptu ceremony was an oversized package of Reese’s peanut butter cups, a favorite snack. Soler looked at it, began chuckling and reached for a boxing reference.
“If I eat all that,” he said, “I could end up as a super-heavyweight.”
But perhaps with even more sweetness than ever.
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