Below is the eulogy Gary Henry, Bob Henry’s eldest son, gave at his services.
Robert Henry, known affectionately to those that he worked with as Mr. Bob, and to his family as Papa, went to be with his Lord and Savior this past Monday. He went peacefully, knowing that he was going to a place of joy.
He was a man that lived an amazing, almost a Walter Mitty-like life— a depression era baby, born into a blue collar family, achieving professional and business success and most important to him— leaving a loving family led by his wife of 67 years—Billye, 3 children, 7 grand-children, 16 great-grand-children and 7 in-law spouses, whom he loved as family.
Dad was a man that despite his immense success and talents, was never full of himself— he was humble and more interested in seeing those around him grow and thrive. He was a man of humor and levity, yet was fiercely focused on accomplishing the task at hand. In a sense, he was also a rebel and a visionary—never content to hear that something could not be done.
I would like to share a few stories and memories about his life that illustrate his character and legacy.
Dad turned 18 years old in April 1945. He went to the Army processing center in Southern Oklahoma shortly after he turned 18 to serve his country. In the physical examination, the doctors discovered that he had hepatitis and immediately dispatched him to the base hospital. There he sat for weeks. VE Day came and went, VJ Day was a short couple of months away. So he sat in the hospital, wearing the same clothes that he had arrived in, not feeling sick at all, but feeling completely ignored. So, in typical Dad fashion, he acted. He got up, walked off of the base and went to the local bus station to go home. Shortly, a sergeant showed up—asked him what the heck he was doing—and Dad said, “the Army doesn’t want me, they won’t even give me a uniform, so I’m going home.” The sergeant gently explained that that was not how it worked and talked him into returning to the base, where he was shortly discharged. (This was not Dad’s first brush with the long arm of the law—being a rebel tends to attract attention!) Dad was never one to sit around and wait for someone else to make a decision.
In the summer of 1948, while home from college, he went to a dance in Duncan. He was playing the piano hoping to impress the young girls—sort of a Billy Joel move I suspect— when a particular young girl caught his eye—Billye Drake—who would become his wife for 67 years. So, they met and started dating long distance after he returned to Stillwater for school. Six months later, he proposed over the phone, came home to Duncan, borrowed Billye’s brother’s car and drove to Wichita to get married (Oklahoma had three-day waiting period for a marriage license and that just would not do). They both told me that they knew from that first meeting that each was “The One.” He may not have been much of a romantic, but he was good at being loving and caring to those in his life.
Dad earned a Masters Degree in Accounting from Oklahoma A&M (State) and followed that up by winning the gold medal for the highest test score on the CPA exam in Oklahoma.
Newly licensed, he turned down a job in Stillwater and took a job in Houston with Arthur Andersen. After 3 years with AA, he took a job with one of their clients, Fish Pipeline. During those years in Houston, the Henry family grew by three.
His success at Fish caught the eye of management, and Dad was hired to open an office Panama for Fish International which was building a pipeline in Argentina. So Dad loaded up his young family and it was off to Panama.
The years in Panama were incredible. His staff loved him, the office ran well and there was tons of time for other activities. Always the Energizer Bunny, Dad built furniture for the house and two boats in the carport, in the second boat—the “Janita”, we explored the Bay of Panama and its many islands.
One particular event that comes to mind was a visit from his parents in the 60’s. it was their first trip out of the country, so they were excited and perhaps apprehensive. Dad talked them into a fishing trip, so they loaded up the Janita and headed out to sea. While speeding along toward a group of islands far from shore, they hit a floating log—knocking a hole in the bottom of the boat. They start taking on water and sinking is inevitable. Dad sees a small island in the distance, steers the boat there and beaches it. Going to work with materials that were on the boat, he patches the hole temporarily. Come to think of it, Dad seemed to have a habit of knocking holes in things—the year before, I think, we were on a car trip to David, an interior mountain town, when on the way home he managed to knock a hole in the gas tank of the station wagon. He fixed that hole with a bar of soap. He was the original McGyver.
But I digress. So he fixes the hole in the boat but now the tide has receded and they are high and dry on the beach—stranded!! What does one do? Wait and see when the water comes back up? Nope, Dad goes inland, finds a native village and convinces the men—that he could not communicate with—to come out to the beach, put logs under the boat and roll it back to the water—even the native islanders liked him! (I think he gave them candy and beer!) Oh, and that was the last visit from his parents!!
After 5 years in Panama, he moved his family back to Houston. Longing for the freedom that he knew in Panama and desiring to have his own business where he could build things, he hatched a plan to buy some land and build a campground. When Mom figured out that his plan was to buy land that was 40 miles from the nearest town, she freaked out. This was not her idea of fun! Providentially, she picked up a Houston newspaper and saw an ad for a Camp Landa that was for sale—in someplace called New Braunfels—a camp is a camp right? So off we went to NB. Dad studied the books, and by the end of the weekend determined that he could make a go of it. He quickly cut a deal to buy Camp Landa and by the end of summer he had sold his house in Houston and he moved his family to NB.
Over the next decade, Dad built the business from 15 acres and 32 cabins to 40 acres and over 100 units. In the process, he introduced NB to the winter tourism business. Was part of the Wurstfest leadership team that moved the small festival from a basement hole on the town square to its present home at the Wurst Halle He helped guide state legislation that allocated State Hotel Occupancy Tax to the cities and directed its use to tourism marketing.
But most of his time and energy went into building. In 1968 he built what I think was the first tube chute and first speed slide—both out of plywood and fiberglass—in the Comal River behind the camp’s Café.
I learned a valuable lesson that year from Dad. We were building a new 4-plex that spring for Hemisphere—Mom had already rented the rooms so the completion deadline was set—we were close to completion when school let out for the year. On the last school day I asked Dad if I could take a couple of hours to go swimming with my friends in the River—he reminded me of our work to be done but said that it was my choice. So I went swimming. When I came home that night, he looked at me sternly and said “Son, you made the wrong decision.” I was grounded for 2 months and he cut my pay to 25 cents per hour from $1.25. Work first, he said, then play. It was fine. I always enjoyed working with him and he was right—I try to remember that lesson each day.
We would sit around the dinner table and he would lay out his plans for the next day or the next project. All of us kids would join him on the job—I still remember him creating a competition between us for who could install the most shingles on a roof one afternoon (I won, Jana cried!) and Mom would go about booking reservations for the rooms—the true deadline!
We always knew when it was time to build— right after Labor Day! Dad would say “I need to lay some bricks” (because he had put on weight over the summer) and we knew that the house was going to smell like Ben Gay for weeks!!!!
In 1977, Dad decided that we would build a waterpark—whatever that was—and that would be the work that would keep the family together and employed. He got a permit from the State to dredge silt from the old channel Comal. Can you imagine trying to get that permit today? He designed the castle as the park icon, built the fiberglass molds for the slides, got a 5-year “master plan permit” from the city (again, can you imagine that today?) and off we went. All of his kids digging, welding, pouring concrete, laying block, framing structures—this was exactly what he dreamed of.
Everyone loved working with Dad—he always had a plan!
The park opened in 1979 and everyone loved the slides. Now, Dad put his tried and proven program to work: borrow short term money in the fall; build or expand something through the winter/spring; operate during the summer; pay off the loans; repeat year after year.
In 1989, Dad decided to turn the business over to his kids and retire. He and Mom bought a house in Florida, modified a houseboat for the lakes and off they went. That lasted less than a year—no projects, no grandkids. He came running home!
Dad never really retired. If there was a project he was on a machine, drawing plans or walking around the construction site. Every day he would drive to each office, get a cup of coffee, pick up mail, sit and visit with everyone—usually with a grandkid in his lap. He probably knew more about what was going on in people’s life than anyone! They enjoyed his stories!
But more than work, the joy of his “retirement years” was the time he spent with grandkids and great-grandkids. He was their Papa and he was always there to give them everything their parents wouldn’t—candy, toys, video games—he was really like a big kid, one of them. They would love to go hang out with him, ride around in his truck and visit the offices—for more candy—hear all of the stories of growing up and building. He especially loved fishing with them, catch and release, cleaning and cooking was too messy! He got more joy out of having all of his family around him—he said way back in the beginning that his dream was to have all of his family around him and working together…
He achieved his dream and his was a life well-lived.
We will miss him…