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Barber Joe Oakman laughs with customer Nick Mendez during his last day of buisness on Thursday, May 26, 2011 in Hayward, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Staff Archives)

HAYWARD -- Joe Oakman, also known as the Mayor of B Street, was lauded as a gifted storyteller last May when he closed his downtown Hayward barber shop after 57 years of cutting hair.

But there was one tale he shared only with his closest friends and family -- the one about his nine-year battle with prostate cancer.

Oakman died of the disease late last week at his home. He was 79.

"It's a dimmer world without him. He taught us how to be good merchants, good neighbors and good people," said Renee Rettig, who put a memorial to Oakman in the bookstore she runs next door to his former barbershop.

Oakman did his best to conceal his illness, often scheduling haircut appointments around chemotherapy. "He was upbeat," said his wife, Pat. "If you didn't know him well, you wouldn't have thought there was anything wrong."

Many of Oakman's close friends and former clients visited him after his retirement, his wife said. "We're still getting several calls a day inquiring how he's doing."

Oakman, who had 11 siblings, was born in Colorado but moved to Hayward as a teenager. He soon started working on B Street emptying the trash at an ice-cream parlor in exchange for banana splits. He returned as a barber after serving in the Navy.

"In the early days, he said it felt like a community," Pat Oakman said. "Everyone's children went to school together. People spent time together on the weekends."

Oakman is survived by his wife, three children, two stepchildren, one grandchild and six siblings.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 10 at Sorensen Chapel, 1140 B Street, Hayward.

Donations in his name can be sent to the American Cancer Society.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002.