After graduating high school in 1967, I found myself taking the Illinois Central Railroad to downtown Chicago. I had been granted employment at Illinois Bell Telephone as a mail boy in their Randolph Street building. There I met my Bride of over forty years and as a result, met her Father, Henry.
Henry was a tall, evenly muscled man. Sandy hair adorned a face that could have passed for Nordic. A handsome man to say the least, even wearing glasses. I found Henry V. Strojny to be an amiable and easy going individual. For a young man meeting his girlfriend’s father for the first time, I was quickly at ease.
As time went by and it appeared to my girlfriend’s Mom and Dad that I was not about to disappear soon, Henry spoke to the folks at International Harvester and I was given a job at the plant on Chicago’s far south side. I went from a paltry two dollars an hour right into the big time, four dollars an hour and a full benefit package.
To top the gift given me by Henry as a means of employment, I was further gifted by being assigned to the bearing division. Here roller and ball bearings were manufactured and assembled for a myriad of customers around the world.
Henry was in a department in the same building but where I was placed as a utility man in the grinding department, Henry was a set-up man in the assembly department. A set-up man was the guy who went from machine to machine to “set-up” the machine for whatever particular job the worker was performing. He carried a small batch of tools and wore a short apron, like the kind a carpenter might wear with the two pockets for tape measures and such.
In this UAW shop I soon learned that Henry knew everyone and everyone knew Henry. He was well liked by many an individual. Who can blame anyone? Henry was just as easy going in calm and in crisis. His manner was jovial, always wise cracking and with that ever present smile. The girls in the shop all loved Henry, in a platonic sense that is. They knew his devotion to his wife, Genevieve, was beyond reproach.
Now, let’s back up some years if we may.
It was early 1952. Henry and Genevieve had relocated back to Chicago following World War II. In spite of Genevieve suffering physical problems that left her unable to bear children, Henry’s love for her was absolute. In the cold months of this year Henry and Genevieve, having successfully adopted a boy, now looked down at a “scrawny, scraggly” little baby girl. They smiled and God smiled and they took her home, later to grow into a wonderful young women. She would say yes to this less-than-deserving young man when he asked for her to marry him.
Henry and Genevieve raised the young boy and the young girl. Her name was Nancy and she received all the love and care that God would have bestowed upon her from natural parents. To Henry, she was his “Little Princess”. Even by the time I came into the picture I could see the special bond between Henry and Nancy.
At the time of our meeting, Henry worked the afternoon shift at the Harvester plant. He also worked weekends at a grocery/liquor store. Needless to say Henry was not around a whole lot unless you wanted to stay late on a Friday night.
Time went by and the relationship between me and his “Little Princess” became serious. Being that I liked Henry a lot and the fact that I was in love with his daughter compelled me to approach him one day for a special request. I went that one day to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. After all, they were great folks and I still felt old-fashioned about those things.
The day I showed up I was pretty nervous. I’m not sure if he knew what I had in mind but Henry was his typical congenial, non-confrontational self. I remember stepping out of my car and greeting him in the yard. He was getting ready to mow the grass that day. I wasted no time. I said, “Do you know why I’m here today?”
“Yeah”, Henry replied, “You’re here to cut the grass.”
I never asked him if he exactly knew what I meant to ask him, but in Henry’s easy style I guess he just wanted to make me comfortable. Henry was like that. I ended up cutting the grass and marrying his daughter.
Fast forward to about 1980. I come home from work and Nancy is ironing clothes and crying. “What’s the matter?”, I ask. “I miss my Mom.” was the reply. Her Mom and Dad had moved to Florida in 1971 and she missed her folks. It took two years but I moved us to Florida, with a job.
When we first visited Henry and Genevieve in 1974, we carried with us our one-year-old daughter, Rachel. Henry was smitten and now had a new Little Princess to dote over.
Henry had retired early from International Harvester and came to Florida shortly after. He and his Mrs. had the cutest little home on the west coast. But Henry didn’t let the grass grow under his feet. He worked for a builder, did garbage man work, and served as a maintenance man for a national motel chain. Always comfortable with crafts, Henry used his skills to create a myriad of object d’ art. His efforts were methodical and detailed.
It seems Henry had every tool known to man. I often wondered why nearly everything he owned had “Hank” etched on it. It was common for someone in the neighborhood to come up with some craft, a lamp, shadow box or lawn ornament, and soon every man on his street was making the same thing.
Many a fellow came by to “borrow” a tool from Nancy’s Dad. He didn’t always get the tool back even with the etched identification. But that was Henry’s way, to help someone else who wanted to do what he had or to lend a tool to someone who didn’t have it.
Henry and Wife, Genevieve, moved to Spring Hill, Florida in 1985 as close as I can figure. Their daughter and I passed many years living in the same community that we had moved to. Career choices on my part took us first to Atlanta, then Ocoee, near Orlando, Clermont then Lakeland. It was while in Lakeland in 2004 that we got the call.
Henry’s wife had called saying that Dad had taken a fall while changing a light in the laundry room. While Henry seemed to be uninjured – my Mother-in-law, knowing I had become a Certified Nursing Assistant while living in Lakeland-asked that if they needed the help of a CNA would I be there for them? Since their daughter , my wife, had taken care of my Mom before she passed away from cancer, my answer was “yes”. I hung up the phone and said to my Bride, “We’re moving to Spring Hill.”
Within two months Nancy and I moved to Spring Hill and began a more involved life with Henry and Genevieve. For about four years things just chugged along fine.
Early in 2009, My Mother-in-law began to notice the downward spiral in Henry’s health. In July he was taken to the hospital twice for various ailments. In early August he made the third trip to the hospital and did not come home from that visit. Henry passed away on August 7th while Genevieve, Nancy and I visited. He was a ripe old age of 93.
There is not enough room in this document nor adequate words to describe the warm hearted nature of Henry V. Strojny. His ever-present grin is still my greatest memory and his tendency to make a joke of everything was just his way of accepting a light-hearted approach to life.
Henry’s addiction to laughter was why we, hid Granddaughter and Great-Grandson so enjoyed being around him. It was always about having fun being together. As we view videos of him with our Grandson, it’s as if we’re watching two people playing on the floor—one a child and the other a man who stayed child-like in his life.
Sometimes now my Mother-in-law will be sitting looking out the window. And while she cared for Henry for the 68 years plus of their marriage, I know that she may wistfully thing of this wonderful man who shared so many years of her life.
Though we all miss Henry so very, very much, there is something indelible about him that remains with us, warms us and brings a smile to our face.
We miss you Henry, but know that those in Heaven are now benefiting from the ever-present smile and laughter that he provokes. Pleasant dreams, Henry. We all love you more than you’ll ever know.