Bert Lyle is known to many as a long-time barber and owner of The Facemaker, a popular full-service salon in downtown Huntsville; however, he has also built a reputation as a faith-first witness to college students, prisoners, and worldwide brothers and sisters in Christ.
The young man from Denton, who enrolled at Sam Houston State University in 1974 seeking “parties, girls and money,” today seeks time serving God and enjoying his family: wife Susie; son Chris, 28; daughter-in-law Jayna and one-year old granddaughter Elliott May; son Austin, 24; and 15-year-old daughter Alexis, who is affectionately known as Lexi.
Bert’s story is moving, and he reflects on it with thoughtfulness and modesty. It’s a very human history that parallels his community’s growth.
I came in ’74 to try out for basketball and attend Sam Houston State University because my uncle was Sam Bass, dean of admissions. He was one of the best men I’ve known in my life.
The other “best man” I’ve known, Mr. Garland Sydow, hired me to work at Barrett’s Hardware store, located where Facemaker now stands. These were amazing Christian men. I wasn’t a believer at the time, so I didn’t get it. My uncle got me enrolled in Sam, so I moved myself out of Denton and into Huntsville. I didn’t make the basketball team, but I quickly found the Jolly Fox (a local nightclub). I ended up working there, and soon I had a lot of trouble making it to classes. After almost two years, I was done with college. Before long, I was doing a lot of drinking—and making a lot of bad choices.
I realized in the 1970s that this was a town with 10,000 college students and few barbers. So I went back to the Dallas area and learned how to cut hair. In 1977, I returned to Huntsville, opened the first Facemaker shop in a tiny house on 16th Street, and got married, living behind the shop. Facemaker was off to a good start, but my personal life got worse when I lost my first wife to suicide.
It messed me up even more. My alcohol use had already turned into using other drugs, but somehow I still had a great business. We moved to Sam Houston Avenue, where the business expanded. We were a little crazy, but we were good hair cutters and hard-working people. It was there, in my mid-20s, that I met Susie. My life was about to change.
Susie was a sophomore at Sam, and she came in to get a haircut. I cut her hair, and I knew she was something special. I asked her out, but she already knew my reputation and wouldn’t go out with me. Finally she said yes, and we dated for four years. We ended up marrying in 1985, but I was still very far from God.
Meanwhile, the business grew. In 1990, we bought this building on the south side of the square. It was a scary time: I was way over budget and abilities. Still, we did extremely well. I was staying busy at work—and distancing myself from my wife and by now, two kids. That’s when Susie came to faith. Her sister Julie took her to a revival when she knew Susie had enough of me. God changed Susie, using her sister Julie.
I got to observe what a faith life looked like! I was not—and am still not always—a joy to be around. But I got to watch how Susie loved, forgave, and encouraged me. I had not ever experienced this type of behavior, and I was 35 years old. Susie lived out her faith. About 19 months after she became a believer, I realized I needed God to also do some drastic changing in my life.
My personal change was radical, so I began to change The Facemaker. I switched the music and stopped serving wine and beer at the salon; I was tired of hurting people. I lost a few customers and stylists who were used to the bad stories and jokes and chauvinistic attitudes I brought to work, but some of them came back. I’ve been sober for almost 20 years, and I’m drug-free—all by God’s grace.
I found a great local church, University Heights Baptist. The pastor surrounded me with good men who showed strength as Christian men. Before long, I was working with college kids and telling them the way they were running their lives wasn’t the best plan for them. This led to ministries in Texas prisons, where God still changes hearts and changes lives.
Eleven years ago I helped begin the Bridge Ministry with our church to reach the homeless of Houston, and it’s been an incredible experience! It takes place every third Friday of the month, and we organize college students and other volunteers to distribute food, clothing, and blankets to the homeless while telling them about Jesus Christ.
A lot of college kids understand what it takes to serve others. They give in abundance to help pay for the food for the homeless. We cook 600 pieces of chicken every time we go down there, and we take 600-800 bottles of water, cookies, bananas—whatever else we can get. We have an enormous amount of kids going on mission trips and going into full-time services. Last semester, our church had 26 kids give their lives to a full-time ministry.
I teach a Tuesday night college Bible study called “Truth,” and in the spring I coach baseball for Alpha Omega Academy. A long time ago I played baseball, and I still play softball. I also love watching Lexi play volleyball and my son Austin play in intramural games.
Yes, I’ve been able to use sports in ministry. We organize softball and volleyball tournaments in Texas prisons for men and women using college students as volunteer players, speakers, and witnesses. In a prison athletic event, tons of people come out. Inmates love to hear from young people; I love to let the students talk to the group—sometimes several hundred. They’ll talk to them about going through things and God changing their lives and giving them hope. Becoming involved with the Bill Glass Champions for Life Ministry in the late 90s helped me learn how to operate these ministries.
Of course, SHSU is still one of my favorite baseball teams. Years ago, Coach Mark Johnson asked me to be a chaplain, and I got to work with the baseball team; I got really close to them. It’s funny: even though I flunked out of SHSU, I still love Bearkat athletics.
I’m a big Texas Longhorn fan, too. My late dad, Dr. Bert Lyle, was a graduate assistant coach for UT in Austin, and I remember standing on the sidelines as a little boy, watching the Longhorns play in the national championship years. Dad had an amazing coaching career at Texas Woman’s University as the track and field coach and athletic director, and also as an Olympic sprint and relay coach. He was honored to coach people like high jumper Louise Ritter, a gold medalist at the Seoul Olympics in ‘88.
Originally The Facemaker was only me, but today the business consists of 20 stylists, two massage therapists, and four or five young ladies helping out with the reception area and shop. I still cut hair, but Cristy Steffa runs the salon. She and the other employees give me enormous freedom, knowing that I want to be out serving.
The Facemaker has also given me the financial opportunity to serve. God has blessed this business, and I just didn’t know it would happen this way. Many of our clients are also big supporters. People continually give us clothing and items for the homeless.
At my church, we have an enormous amount of people of my generation who are givers. I’ve never been told “No” when I ask for help or resources.
God reminded Susie and me of His sovereignty and greatness when our daughter Lexi went through a six-month ordeal with her health. She was only two years-old when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare and serious disease involving damaged bone marrow and blood stem cells. This town, and sometimes people we don’t even know, supported us with finances, food, and prayers. There is genuine compassion in our community! Lexi went through chemo and bone marrow transplants—and then she was given back to us, whole. Today she is healthy, and I’m dealing with the challenges of having a teenage daughter who is more than pretty!
Susie and my family, by far, and I want to let them know they are vital. Also important is the opportunity for helping anybody who is going through difficulties.
I am most happy when I see people I’m focusing on having joy in their lives. I love to see someone I’m working with get the call in their life from the Lord and realize they are supposed to be doing for Him. I think I’m most happy when I’m working with people who have little and are very grateful.
Absolutely. I used to be really ashamed and upset about how I lived my life for a long time. Now I realize, when a young adult comes to talk to me, there’s not anything that surprises me! I’m still a mess, and I try to make sure the kids I’m speaking to know this. There’s no real way I can be judgmental; I know what it means to be forgiven.
God, not me, is an amazing story. Paraphrasing a favorite scripture, Genesis 50:20, I can tell you, “What Satan intended for harm, God turned into good.” He is the life changer.
Excellent interview. Bert: You have shared some of this story with me in the past. I enjoyed reading more about you here.
Bert Lyle is a walking testimony of God’s grace, and has impacted more lives than can be counted. I was an SHSU student in the mid 90’s in need of God’s direction, and found it through Bert’s faithful teaching of scripture and his gentle way of discipling others. I’ve now been in full time ministry for 16 years, and owe so much to Bert’s teaching, mentorship and encouragement. Thank you, Lord, for Bert Lyle!
I met Burt many years ago when I was just in high school. Like most teenagers, high school had a lot of turbulence. What I didn’t know until later in life was that I suffer from a severe form of bipolar disorder. I had Burt cut my hair for many years and we always chatted about stuff during that time. I’m not sure how casual conversation turned to the topic of suicide but one haircut it was the principal topic. I can hardly remember Burt’s words but the emotion that he expressed has been burned into my soul. For people with bipolar disorders, suicide can be a frequent thought, especially if your meds are messed up or life’s issues seem exceedingly dire. I can honestly say it’s still a struggle at times but I’ve never been able to uncouple the thoughts of ending my own life with the emotion that Burt expressed that day. The conflict of two equally powerful emotions has always been enough to give me the strength to recognize the feelings are chemical imbalances and I need to let my dr. know so we can fix it. Burt has saved my life a number of times and I’d be amazed if he even knew it. Thank you Burt.