Forrest Ashford Henslee, 93, passed away early Tuesday morning, August 5, 2014, at Pinecrest Medical Care Facility in Powers, Michigan. As President and CEO of the then State Bank of Escanaba (now known as the Upper Peninsula State Bank), Forrest was a long time civic leader, pillar of the community, and advisor/mentor to many. The loves of his life were his family, banking, flying and golfing. Oh, and he liked to regale anyone who would listen with his stories. And he told them well!
Forrest was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 11, 1920, to Forrest A. Henslee and Carolina Susselin. He was preceded in death by his four sisters. His father died when Forrest was just 14 years old, in the middle of the Great Depression. Forrest often expressed his admiration for his mother’s tenacity in providing for her family in such difficult circumstances. His recollection was that, in spite of the hardship, he always ate and was clothed well.
After graduating high school, Forrest worked for the Kroger Grocery Company and Proctor & Gamble. Then, a confluence of events forever changed his life. First, his sister Laura introduced him to a fellow nurse-in-training, Mary Katherine Stephenson; then, the United States entered World War II. As he entered the Army, he proposed to Mary, and they wed on August 7, 1943. She accompanied Forrest around the country as he was trained by the Army, going through Kansas City on the way to Yuma, Arizona. Shortly afterward, he was shipped out to Great Britain in anticipation of the D-Day invasion.
As a first lieutenant in the 294th Engineer Combat Battalion, Forrest landed on Utah Beach on D-Day +1, June 7, 1944. He and his men built the roads and bridges for the Allied troops as they fought their way through France and into Germany, and participated in the liberation of one of the concentration camps. Because of that experience, he could never countenance attempts by some to deny the Holocaust. Forrest was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his actions during the war.
He returned to the United States and his wife in 1945. Using the G.I. Bill, he worked his way through the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a BA in accounting. After graduating, he worked for Montgomery Ward & Company. He was an up and comer, rapidly earning promotions that took him to Grand Rapids, MI; Findlay, OH; Park Forest, IL; Bloomington, IL; Livonia, Michigan; and, finally, Escanaba, MI, to where he was transferred on Labor Day 1960 as the manager for the Wards store.
A short time later, the company asked him to move back to the Chicago area for yet a bigger assignment. He declined in fulfillment of a promise to his children that their moving days were over. The following year, the company gave him no choice but to move; however, by that time the family had fallen in love with their new home. Rather than transfer back to the big city, Forrest accepted a position as assistant cashier with the State Bank of Escanaba. This involved quite a career sacrifice, but his education and Wards management training served him well. In just two years at the bank, Forrest was named chief executive officer, which he held for another 28 years. In his time running the bank, it grew considerably and became one of the best performing, best earning and well capitalized banks in the state, if not the country.
Forrest was actively involved in several banking organizations and associations, including the American Bankers Association, Michigan Bankers Association and the then Michigan Association of Community Bankers, in which he served as president. Meetings with these organizations allowed him to combine business with pleasure as he often flew himself in a Cessna 172 to those meetings, rather than drive.
Forrest served as president of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce. He also served as president of the Escanaba School Board and was instrumental in getting much-needed new elementary schools built. Forrest was an active member of the Kiwanis and Golden Kiwanis, and was often involved in fundraising activities for various causes and organizations.
Following his retirement from banking in 1991, he and Mary (known to many as “Steve”) wintered in California for several years, but always returned to Escanaba in the spring. Although a transplant to the area, Forrest’s love of and for Escanaba never waned, spending the entirety of his later years here.
Forrest was the proud father of three children: Linda J. Bauccio (Fedele) of San Francisco; Judith A. Henslee of Milwaukee; and Forrest Stephen Henslee (Julia) of Overland Park, Kansas. He is survived by his wife, Mary, with whom he would have celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary on August 7; the three kids, six grandchildren (Tracey L. Clairmont, Katherine A. Hardt, James L. Clairmont, Jr., Stephanie L. Henslee, Hillary K. Henslee, and Forrest G. Henslee) and six great-grandchildren (Adrienne, Nicolette, Jac, Lucas, Gabrielle, and Fisher).
A celebration of Forrest’s life will be held on Saturday, August 9, at 3:00 P.M. at the old City Hall building located at the corner of 1st Avenue South and South 11th Street. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Forrest and Mary Henslee Scholarship Fund at the Escanaba Area Public High School.
The Crawford Funeral Homes are assisting the Henslee family.