SAVANNAH, Ga.-- This winter, while some people may say "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow," many men at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District are saying "let it grow, let it grow, let it grow."
It's part of a national men's health movement called "No-Shave November," where men all across the country are putting down their razor blades to raise awareness for cancer.
Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the No-Shave November campaign started in 2009 on Facebook with fewer than 50 participants. Today, thousands of people across the globe have joined in.
Photo Caption: No-Shave November caught on at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. Pictured top row from left: Canton Gardenhire, Drew Smith, Jim Bufford. Middle row from left: Shaun Blocker, Craig Jahnrette, George Jumara. Bottom row from left: Russ Wicke, Donald Hendrix, Michael Roberts. Graphic by George Jumara.
Canton Gardenhire of the Internal Review Office said he started growing a beard in October as an "experiment."
"But then I heard about No-Shave November on the radio, so I decided to let it grow, grow, grow," he said. "So then when someone asks me why I have this beard, I tell them that we're bringing awareness to men's health and cancer patients."
"I think it's a great way to be positive and to promote good health," Gardenhire said.
According to the official website (www.no-shavenovember.com), the goal of No-Shave November is to raise awareness by embracing hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free. Participants are encouraged to donate money they would usually spend on shaving and grooming for a month to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.
Michael Roberts of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office has a personal connection to No-Shave November.
"It's a serious condition. I have family members who have been affected by cancer, so it's personal to me," Roberts said.
Roberts read about No-Shave November online, and his wife encouraged him to participate.
"She said I should do it to raise awareness for men's health, because she does a lot of breast cancer awareness activities in October for women's health," Roberts said, adding that his wife likes his beard, but he doesn't.
"The hardest part about having the beard is that it gets itchy," he said. He said he plans to shave on Dec. 1.
Craig Janhrette of the Defense Automated Printing Services started growing his beard when he saw George Jumara, the District's photographer, walking around the office with what Janhrette called a "crazy beard."
"George told me that he was growing his beard for No-Shave November, so I decided to do it too," Janhrette said. "It's the equivalent of breast cancer awareness for women. We are showing support to the cause and for prostate cancer awareness."
Janhrette added that his 10-month old son likes to grab his beard.
While others in the District have done some maintenance trimming along the way, Jumara took the movement literally and hasn't groomed at all since Oct. 29.
"I wanted to participate to raise awareness of facial hair," Jumara said. "Also, I haven't had a full beard in a long time and wanted to change things up a bit."
Jumara might even keep the beard through the winter since he's become accustomed to the warmth it provides.
Jim Bufford of Logistics Management started growing his beard at the beginning of November after receiving an email from Russ Wicke, the District's Corporate Communications Officer.
"I got the email from Russ telling us about No-Shave November so I decided to let it grow out," Bufford said. "And now it's sort of like a disguise. I can walk down the hall and people don't recognize me so they don't ask me to do work," he said with a laugh.
"Plus it's the only place I can grow hair," he said as he lifted his cap to reveal a shiny bald head.
But Bufford wasn't the only recipient of the infamous Wicke email. Wicke enlisted several others throughout the District to join the ranks of the bearded men.
Wicke convinced Alan Garrett of the civil works project management team to participate, along with Andy Ashley of the engineering division. Wicke even inspired Ralph Werthmann, chief of the real estate division, to grow a beard, but sources in Werthmann's office confirm that "he only lasted about a week."
In addition to drawing attention to men's health, Wicke also linked his facial fuzz to his fascination with hagiography—the study of biographies of saints.
"I partly grew my beard in honor of St. Thomas More of England [1478-1535], who after being condemned to death by King Henry VIII, he lay on the chopping block and carefully moved his beard away from the path of the axe saying, ‘This hath not offended the king,’" Wicke said.
Shaun Blocker and Donald Hendrix are carrying on the movement for the Regulatory Division. They both started growing beards in October.
"It's the perfect time of year to let it grow because it keeps my face warm through the winter," Blocker said. "But my wife says it looks wooly. She won't touch it."
"I first started growing it because my kids wanted me to dress like Duck Dynasty for Halloween, but then I just decided to keep it going through No-Shave November," Hendrix said. "But it actually might turn into a No-Shave winter," he said with a chuckle.
Hendrix said the cancer awareness movement is very personal to him. He lost his father to cancer two years ago and has several close family members who are cancer survivors and are active with the American Cancer Society.
Drew Smith in the Operations Division has been growing his beard since the beginning of November.
"I heard of it last year when it went viral on Facebook," Smith said. "Earlier this month I did a volley ball tournament that focused on men's cancer awareness, and they had a mustache growing contest there. I've heard about it all over the place."
But not everyone has made it as far as others. For example, Nathan Snyder of the Resource Management Office started growing a beard in late October, but he shaved it Nov. 25 because "it was driving my girlfriend crazy," he said.