The other half of the circle known as Mr. & Mrs. Forrest A. Henslee has left us. Mary Katherine Stephenson Henslee, 92, loving and devoted wife, mother, and highly skilled registered nurse, passed away on June 25, 2016, right where she wanted to be…home! Mary was the epitome of the adage that behind every successful man is a woman. She was that woman for her husband, Forrest A. Henslee, as they formed a union that was typical for the very uncommon Greatest Generation.
Mary, known as Steve to her friends, was born in Hamilton, Ohio on August 25, 1923, to William Clay and Georgia Grace Fowler Stephenson. Upon graduation from Hamilton High School, she entered Cincinnati’s Jewish Hospital School of Nursing from which she graduated as a registered nurse. This was a fete for a time in which women generally did not pursue studies after high school and an accomplishment of which Mary was very proud, as was her father.
Her nursing school led to her introduction to Forrest Henslee, the brother of a school companion. Forrest quickly became the love of her life, culminating in their August 7, 1943 wedding.
Mary traveled the country with Forrest as he received his training in the U.S. Army, prior to his deployment for the D-Day invasion. She greeted him home in 1945, after which they began raising the quintessential, nuclear family while Forrest studied at the University of Cincinnati and began a career.
Mary raised the family while Forrest’s career took them to several Midwestern cities. They finally landed in Escanaba in 1960. Mary was not thrilled at the prospect of moving from major metro areas like Chicago and Detroit to a small place in the Upper Peninsula. After just one year, though, nothing and nobody could pry Mary out of Escanaba or her home, which she considered to be her castle. She loved Escanaba, even in its coldest times!
Mary became very involved in the Escanaba community almost immediately through the Women’s Club and Newcomer’s Club. While with Newcomer’s and after Forrest became the CEO of the State Bank of Escanaba, she would search city utility records for new hookups, which indicated someone new to the area. She would personally welcome them to the area and introduce them to the services of the State Bank! She was also involved in the planning of Escanaba’s centennial parade in 1963.
Throughout her life, Mary showed the steely resolve of her generation in raising her family and supporting her husband. This was especially so since 1980, when an affliction left her right side partially paralyzed and became progressively worse. She hid her infirmity so well that it wasn’t until her very late years that it was noticeable. During all that time, she never complained or allowed the condition to define her.
What did define her was her love of babies, children and Christmas. As a young nurse, Mary worked in the maternity ward at Jewish Hospital. She often said taking care of those babies was one of the best times of her life. And at Christmas time, she played Santa to her children well into their adulthood, literally flooding her living room with presents she would bring out of hiding in the wee Christmas morning hours before everyone rose from bed. The volume of gifts often prompted Forrest to mutter something humorous about conspicuous consumption.
Mary was preceded in death by her husband, parents, brothers Charles and Sherman, and granddaughter Tracey Lynn Clairmont. She is survived by her daughters Linda J. Bauccio (Fedele) of San Francisco and Judith A. Henslee of Milwaukee; son Forrest Stephen Henslee (Julia) of Overland Park, Kansas; five grandchildren (Katherine A. Hardt, James L. Clairmont, Jr., Stephanie L. Henslee, Hillary K. Henslee, and Forrest G. Henslee); seven great-grandchildren (Adrienne, Nicolette, Jac, Gabrielle, Lucas, Fisher and Charlotte); brother Michael; and her sister Helen Cisch of Oviedo, Florida, with whom Mary was able to celebrate Helen’s 100th birthday this past November in Florida. She also leaves behind Francis Grenier, who tended to her landscaping and helped out Forrest and Mary in innumerable ways ever since he was 11 years old and whom both Forrest and Mary considered as another son. He actually became part of the family with his 2015 marriage to Katherine. The family also wishes to acknowledge Richard Growden, who was a loyal family friend, companion to Forrest, and great neighbor.
The Henslee children wish to thank the staff of the Community Action Agency, who provided round the clock care to both Forrest and Mary for the last three years; the staff of OSF Home Health and OSF Hospice Care; and Mary’s granddaughter, Katherine, who offered very personal treatment to Mary in her last days, much as Mary provided to others during her nursing days. The services provided by all allowed Forrest and Mary to fulfill their wish to remain in their home to the end.
Mary will be cremated, after which she and Forrest will be interred together on a date and place yet to be determined, but in a private ceremony according to Mary’s wishes. In lieu of flowers, the family requests 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.