In 2002, a college student named Kevin Heuer made a decision that would catalyze an organization into existence. He decided he was going to be Fidel Castro for Halloween; and that meant growing a very, shall we say, “fierce” beard. This then started a conversation between Heuer and five of his college buddies about who could grow the “fiercest” beard. And that’s how the Great American Fierce Beard Organization
(GAFBO) was established.
“The day after Halloween, we all shaved and grew out our beards for five months. Then we just bombarded people at the bar, asking who they thought had the fiercest beard,” says John Buckler, co-founder of GAFBO. “We choose the term fierce, because it’s ambiguous … and what’s fierce to you is different than what’s fierce to me.”
For two years, GAFBO existed purely for the enjoyment of its members, who “met frequently to further their camaraderie, as well as to make the world a hairier place.” But when Heuer was diagnosed with testicular cancer, the group shifted its focus towards philanthropy. GAFBO members grew out their beards for as long as they could, taking pledges from family and friends to raise money for the American Cancer Society. And this was just the beginning.Bearded Philanthropy
Today, GAFBO prides itself on offering its members the opportunity to do good deeds, have a little fun and make some friends along the way. For Buckler, being a member of GAFBO is indescribable. “It's one of those things that you just have to be a part of to truly understand. It's such a big part of my life now that any and all conversations I have with people seem to come around to it eventually, if not actually starting there,” says Buckler. “But what I love most about it is that through GAFBO I have met so many wonderful people that enrich my life just by being around and offering different perspectives on everything.”
As a relatively new organization, GAFBO is quite heavily involved in charitable and community events across the Capital region. Members make monthly donations to organizations like the Greater Lansing Food Bank
and Toys for Tots at their meetings; they’ve had a presence at local festivals, the Lansing Derby Vixens
' home bouts and even took part in Old Town’s Dickens Village
. “We also donated some money to Todd Duckett’s Cuts for Cancer
. But we definitely did not shave for the event,” laughs Buckler. Beard and Mustache Competitions
On April 16, GAFBO teamed up with the Detroit Beard League
, the Great Lakes Beard and Mustache Camaraderie
and Grand Circus Media
to host the Motor City Beard and Mustache Competition, at Small’s Bar in Hamtramck. All proceeds from the event were donated to Youthville Detroit, an organization focused on engaging youth with communities and organizations that assist in fostering positive youth development and community change.
“It was an amazing event, full of amazing people and for a great cause. We had 300 people from 10 different states and two different countries all gathered in one of my favorite cities in the world. On top of seeing some great facial hair, we raised nearly $2,000 for Youthville Detroit. It was the first event we’ve really all teamed up together for, and it was such a blast. We had wonderful turnout and support.”
GAFBO is hosting its own beard and mustache competition, the Capital City Beards, Mo’s, Anything Goes, on Aug. 20, at the Lansing City Market. Not only will they have a competition geared towards children, but they will also have a “cop-stash” category, for off-duty police officers and firefighters to participate and compete. After the event, attendants and contestants will head to a Lugnuts game. The GAFBO Mentality
Although it embodies the persona of the organization, one doesn’t have to have facial hair to join. There are many GAFBO members without beards or mustaches, including women. But even Buckler’s own reason for growing a beard was derived from a mere hatred for shaving. The extravagance of his beard is where the story is. “I grow a large beard because I love the way that it changes people's perceptions of who I am, which lets me see the world in a different light,” says Buckler.
“The beard has been my excuse - as if I needed one - to travel the country and meet new people. It's provided me with so many opportunities that I think I would have skipped out on otherwise. It doesn't hurt that I frequently get a free beer out of the deal,” Buckler says smiling.
Not only is GAFBO vested in this community through its philanthropy efforts, the organization changes the lives of its members. “Other than seeing different parts of the world and immersing myself into the bizarre subculture of beards and mustaches, utilizing GAFBO as a means to make the world a better place - through our charitable efforts - has made me calmer, happier and more fulfilled than I had been previously,” says Buckler. “Not that I was a miserable, heartless, troll beforehand. It's just provided me with a different outlook and led me to explore a more creative side of my personality.”
Who knew growing some facial hair (or just appreciating it) could become a way to contribute to your community in an effective and impacting way? Buckler knows why GAFBO does what it does. “[Community involvement is] how you make the world a better place. Simple as that. And who doesn't want the world to be a better place?”
Indeed. We couldn't agree more.
Suban Nur Cooley is the managing editor of Capital Gains and a huge
fan of GAFBO. When she's not ogling at beards, she's writing for Poppy on a Kite.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
John Buckler, co-founder of GAFBO
Ian Walker, member of GAFBO with John Buckler
A beard lovers' t-shirt
Ian and John
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie