Celebrating a life: Florence Henderson devoted herself to her hometown

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on December 14, 2011 with No Comments

When notified of her passing, friends of Florence Henderson began to recall all the love and devotion she had given to her hometown of Valparaiso. The celebration of life continued as they gathered at her memorial service on Veterans Day, particularly fitting for her.

There was a lot to recall of this life well-lived.

She was born Sept. 7, 1929, in Lorraine, Ohio. On Feb. 10, 1952 in Valparaiso, Florence married Thomas “Thumper” Henderson. He survives, with their sons, Thomas of Valparaiso and Timothy Henderson of Monon.

Many people knew her as the jail matron for more than 30 years at the Porter County Jail. Tom is a Porter County sheriff’s deputy, a captain.

Lifelong friend Marleen Baum is among those who love to tell the stories about Florence. Despite not being a large woman, Henderson ruled her section of the lockup with respect from her prisoners.

“She was a very strong-willed person,” said Baum.

“She used her personality. The matron takes care of all the female inmates. She made sure they all do what they are supposed to in the timeline in which they are supposed to do it.

“Or, if they have to retrieve someone in a specific area, they called Florence to do it.

“She matched the job description that entitled her to do what she needed to do; bring the inmates home.”

But her exemplary work life is only a portion of what she did for Valparaiso.

Her husband is a veteran of the Koran War.

Together, they have been members of American Legion Post 94 for 55 years.

“Thumper” was at one time the state commander of the Legion. “So she was the First Lady of the Indiana American Legion,” said Baum.

Together, Florence with the Legion Auxiliary and Thumper with the Legionnaires, they staged hundreds of fundraisers and helped lift spirits with memorials to the memories of servicemen, one of which was a family member who died from injuries in service as a Vietnam veteran.

“We in the Legion Auxiliary are very involved in the annual spring poppies sale,” said Baum. “We all need to remember the veterans. We accept donations for the poppies and then we start in the spring with other events. We’ll be out in the community, at festivals and other events. And, at holidays, Halloween for instance, we distribute candy. We have hot apple cider for Christmas.”

The funds raised go to flag ceremonies, to purchases of flags on the main streets of Valparaiso, to the American Cancer Society. The Legion Auxiliary sponsors residents of the Indiana Veterans Home in Lafayette. They visit the residents and stage an annual Bingo event.

And, in Henderson’s case, the public works extended into a beloved passion: Hoosier Girls State.

The program sends delegates, juniors from Indiana high schools, to the statewide convention. It is designed to educate young women of Indiana in the duties, privileges, rights and responsibilities of citizenship. It is a week of living and learning the political system of Indiana through a mythical City, County and State.

The young women chosen for this honor by an American Legion Auxiliary Unit are named as delegates to Hoosier Girls State. In addition, an American Legion Auxiliary Unit may designate other young women to serve as alternates in case a delegate cannot attend the Hoosier Girls session.

Once delegates arrive and register, they become citizens of Hoosier Girls State and are assigned to one of the two political parties – Federalist or Nationalist.  (This name change is necessary since citizens are elected as delegates for political party activities.)  Citizens learn the political party structure and every citizen files and campaigns for an elective office.  Once elected, they serve in that office.

Valparaiso’s auxiliary, with Henderson at the head of the effort, has been finding scholarship money for the participants.

“She was the best at coming up with ways to raise money,” Baum said. “She was so creative. It was awesome.”

“The program taught our girls how to be good citizens, how government works. Florence always said there was nothing more important that our kids.”

Still, there was more to Henderson’s life.

In high school, she was at once Homecoming Queen and one of the school’s better athletes. She played on the national level for the softball Valpo Queens, 1948-49.

She had fond memories of that,” Baum said. “She loved that.”

A regular attendee of the Baptist Church, she taught Sunday school for more than 22 years.

“She just never stopped,” Baum, said. “As an office of the Legion Auxiliary was well as a past president of our unit, you couldn’t find anyone more involved.

“And, like everything else she did, she did it effortlessly.”

Henderson requested memorial donations be made to the Hoosier Girl State/American Legion Auxiliary, 777 N. Meridian St., Room 107, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

For more information about American Legion Post 94, call 219-462-4452 or visit www.post94.org.

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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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