Revealed: the man behind the mustache

By Gus Bode

You might be able to tell a lot about a man by his mustache, but Mayor Joel Fritzler’s whiskers may not tell the whole story.

Does his mustache reveal anything about his years in Africa, his love of motorcycle riding or his former, debatable, glory as a soccer player?

Probably not, but a mustache notable enough to be the subject of a fundraising campaign has got to say something.

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“You’ve got to have some strength and courage to be carrying that mustache around with you,” said Marika Josephson, who designed the I’m with Fritz campaign logo Fritzler used when he campaigned for mayor.

Mayor Joel Fritzler finishes putting up Christmas decorations Tuesday at his home in Carbondale. Fritzler said he has put up decorations since he moved to the house five years ago and now it’s a tradition. “Growing up, my dad put lights up,” he said. Isaac Smith | Daily Egyptian

But what does Fritzler himself think about the ‘stache?

“I could go either way,” he said.

And depending on the results of the Shave It or Save It campaign, Fritzler may do away with what’s arguably his defining feature.

He started the campaign that will determine what he does with his mustache to raise money for the Carbondale Scholarship, two $500 awards to Carbondale Community High School students who plan to go to SIU. People can contribute money to the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce or one of four collection cans, complete with opposing save it and shave it buckets.

Fritzler said he originally came up with the idea as a campaign fundraiser but didn’t end up doing it. He said his campaign managers insisted he shave it, but the whiskers weren’t going anywhere.

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“When the whole campaign started, I was like, ‘I’m not shaving my mustache. This is part of me. If they don’t like my mustache, then screw them. They don’t have to vote for me,’” Fritzler said.

He said he knows it annoys some people and even he’s ambivalent about it now.

But the fundraiser has Josephson worried.

“I’m kind of in doubt,” she said. “I don’t want him to shave it.”

But if Fritzler does take the razor to his mustache, it would only be closing one chapter in his life.

He said the most rewarding experience he ever had actually fell between first donning facial hair as a college freshman in ’79 and moving into the mayor’s office this year.

In the early ’90s he spent a few years in Africa, first with the Peace Corps, then with the United Nations.

Fritzler said he lived in Botswana for more than two years working with the Peace Corps. Two weeks after getting there, he was transferred from his first job managing a furniture production unit to teaching 15-to-19 year-olds carpentry. Fritzler said his first class to graduate from the three-year program had a pass rate of 100 percent.

“I was really proud of my guys,” he said.

His students weren’t always perfect though, but he handled the situation without the corporal punishment that was typcial, Fritzler said.

“If someone’s homework wasn’t going to get done, it was mine, because they knew I wasn’t going to beat them,” he said. “I would do something worse. I would have them dig holes.”

But missing homework was pretty insignificant compared to some of the other problems Fritzler had to deal with.

As a district logistics officer for the U.N. in Malawi, he oversaw the distribution of food and supplies to Mozambican refugees. During his time there he had to contend with bureaucratic mix-ups, wasted food, a strung-out, knife-wielding refugee and, perhaps most harrowingly, an angry mother rhinoceros.

Fritzler said he and a friend went for a drive through the wilderness in a tiny three-cylinder truck. Things were going well until Fritzler spotted a rhino coming right their way, and coming fast.

“She’s picking up speed, and I’m like, ‘Why is she charging after us?’ and I look over, and there’s her baby on the side of the road,” he said. “You don’t want to get between a rhino and its baby.”

Fritzler got a close enough look at the mother’s horn to tell it was long enough to impale the truck door with more than enough left for his leg too before his friend drove out of the way.

The U.N. itself turned out to be the source of some hostility too, he said.

Fritzler said he and the other logistics officers were forced on the U.N. by the U.S. State Department to make sure donations were not going to waste. As a result, he never got a permanent residence, and for a while all he had to drive was a Yamaha dirt bike, training not included, he said.

“A few of us had a few spills,” he said.

Despite all this, he said he thinks about returning to Africa all the time, though he never has. For now, the collection of African art that adorns his City Hall office will have to do.

Perhaps he brought some motorcycle experience home with him too, as he now rides a Honda Shadow Ace 1100 that he bought from his neighbor.

“It was the biggest thing I’d ever been on,” he said.

Though its bulk largely defeats the gas-saving advantage of riding a bike, he said he passed on downsizing.

Until becoming mayor, it was his primary mode of transportation, he said, but suits and briefcases don’t really work on a motorcycle.

He’s also been doing less of one of his other pass times since becoming mayor: soccer.

Fritzler said he played soccer in high school and college and even coached a team in the Peace Corps, so he was glad to find out about the Southern Illinois Adult Soccer League.

He said he was competitive until a collision on a soggy field in 2008, which left his leg out of commission.

“My leg stood that way and my body went that way,” he said.

However, even before the injury, he wasn’t exactly a star player, said Falko Frommelt, the coach of Fritzler’s team, the Orange Revolution.

“Soccer-wise, his talent is a bit limited,” he said. “He’s on the tail end, I would say.”

Frommelt said that’s not a big deal though, and Fritzler always took a leadership position, sitting on the league’s board of directors and organizing its annual game at the Southern Illinois Irish Fest. So it wasn’t any big surprise when he got involved in politics, he said.

Which brings us back to the mustache. Sort of.

Josephson said the mustache isn’t just a throwback to the Old West. It has political implications as well.

“Something about that mustache says to me he’s an independent and a straight shooter,” she said.

But Fritzler’s apparently not that attached to this apparent symbol of integrity, mostly because his home-made whisker wax can’t always prevent bad mustache days.

“I get split ends … I’ll be trying to get it waxed and combed right. One side might be fluffing up, the other side’s drooping,” he said. “I guess I’m getting a little tired with it, to tell you the truth, but I could take it or leave it.”

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