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Omaha Magazine

The Brotherhood of Bristles

Feb 24, 2023 10:10AM ● By William Rischling
Zach Pedersen (top left),Justin “Woody” Woodson (top right),Micah Kafka (bottom right),Mike Carnes (bottom left),Mark Beneda (middle)

Zach Pedersen (top left), Justin “Woody” Woodson (top right), Micah Kafka (bottom right), Mike Carnes (bottom left), Mark Beneda (middle)

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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As anyone who has tumbled down an internet rabbit-hole can attest, there’s an online community for everyone. Whether by happenstance, word-of-mouth, or pure curiosity, one might find themselves browsing a Facebook page depicting bearded men of all varieties. Some ask for advice on maintenance, while others pose shirtless in compositions imbued with creative panache—all punctuated by outpourings of acceptance and positivity from its members. This motley crew of unshaven gentlemen (and ladies) convene regularly, united in both name and passion: the Omaha Facial Hair Society.

Established in 2013 by founder Mark Beneda, Omaha’s band of bearded chaps began as little more than a tipsy sketch on a barroom napkin. 

“I was actually sitting at a bar and I had heard of beard competitions through Whisker Wars,” Beneda recalled. “I’d just started growing out my beard for ‘No Shave November’ and was trying to find a chapter near here, even in Nebraska, and I couldn’t find anything. So I decided to just make my own chapter. I drew out the first initial stuff on a napkin while I was drinking and just sorta stumbled through from there.” 

From scribbles on a scrap of paper to a group with over 1,000 members, the Omaha Facial Hair Society has enjoyed a meteoric rise since its conception. 

An essential aspect of this growth, and a key tenet of the society, is its dedication to community stewardship. Charity events are a centerpiece of the group’s identity—the most visible being the ‘Beardoir’ fundraising event. An annual calendar made up of professionally produced photos capturing shirtless, bearded men in all manner of costumes and poses, the Beardoir displays the love, humor, and care that the Omaha Facial Hair Society expresses toward its members, and the metro at large.

“I believe we had about 30 models this year. One of our guys, Micah, is our photographer and secretary this year, and he spends hours editing and photoshopping to make us look at least presentable. We’re not exactly model types, so it’s kinda hard to make us look good sometimes, but he does pretty good considering,” Beneda quipped. 

Another popular fundraising event is the Speedo car wash, one that Beneda considers his personal favorite.

“We did a car wash and raised over $1,200 in five hours just washing cars. We had people honking and actually saw a car accident happen because someone was staring at us a little too long. Ran right into the car in front of them,” he laughed. “That’s my favorite one that we do because people that we don’t know, people that didn’t know they wanted their car washed will stop in. One guy didn’t have time to get his car washed but he stopped just to give us a $100 bill and some beer.” 

Aside from the Beardoir and car wash, the Facial Hair Society upholds a proud tradition among whisker enthusiasts: beard competitions. These contests draw in competitors nationwide, and often raise considerable funds—sometimes accompanied by raffles and silent auctions. 
“Every competitor paid $20 to compete, and if you were competing in multiple categories you would pay for both. I think we had four or five people that competed in at least two categories,” Beneda explained. 

This extensive cataloguing of facial hair types is not a practice unique to Omaha’s competitions, however. Every conceivable arrangement of facial follicles inspires a unique title, and larger competitions aren’t afraid to bust out the magnifying glass. Beneda is a veteran of such competitions, in Omaha and beyond. 

“I went to the World Beard and Mustache Championship down in Austin, Texas, in 2017 and there were a ton of different categories. There’s English mustache, freestyle beard, where people use hair spray and gel…all sorts of stuff. When I was in Chicago for the National Championship, I got first place in ‘Unfriendly Chops’,” he beamed. “I cut my mustache off and it put me in a different category.” 

From worldwide communities to local groups like Omaha’s, facial hair groups seem to share a sense of lighthearted warmth that shines with altruism. Micah Kafka, secretary of the Omaha Facial Hair Society and Beardoir producer, puts in an astounding amount of work turning out a product that yields no personal financial return.

“We do quite a few shoots throughout the year, then editing and design is probably over 100 hours,” he said of the effort required to put the Beardoir together. 

His responsibilities as secretary include: keeping notes for meetings, ensuring the group is informed on upcoming projects, running the social media, and producing the calendar every year—duties performed on the basis of camaraderie and goodwill. 

“A lot of friendships have come out of this whether they were bearded or not. We had a lot of ladies that have joined the group who just enjoy coming to the meetings and helping out with fundraising stuff,” Beneda observed.

The search for meaningful connections is a hairy, often tangled journey people undertake throughout their lives. Yet, it seems a collection of people in Omaha, Nebraska, have discovered the right tools—generosity, laughter, and a spritz of aftershave—to shear away the fluff.

When asked what he gets out of running the Omaha Facial Hair Society, Beneda replied: “I would say the camaraderie, the brotherhood; you know, a lot of the guys have become really good friends of mine over the years. None of us make any money, and in fact. most of us are paying in on all this stuff.”

“It’s very much a labor of love for everyone involved.” 

Visit the Omaha Facial Hair Society page on Facebook for more information.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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