MANISTIQUE – Chances are, you already know Les Henry. You’ve probably bumped into him at a VFW breakfast, noticed him performing color guard, or visiting residents at the medical care facility. To many, Henry’s volunteerism may be something notable – enough to earn him the title of grand marshal for this year’s Independence Day parade – but to him, it’s just another day.
Henry was born in Manistique, and graduated from Manistique High School in 1963. After high school, he took up employment at a saw mill and worked various construction jobs until he was drafted in 1965. Henry traveled to Vietnam, where he served for one and a half tours, mostly on convoy duty.
During the end of his tour, Henry was able to serve alongside his brother, Dave, before going home in 1967. In 1968, he married Danalee, a Saginaw native who moved to Manistique in her early teens. Together the couple had four children, one of whom died after a tragic accident.
From 1987 until 2000, Henry spent his time between jobs – working at Manistique Rentals, Inc. and as a wildfire firefighter out West. Toward the end of his firefighting career, Henry explained the lifestyle – leaving at the drop of a hat and sleeping on the ground – got to be too much.
“I was getting to be the oldest guy in the crew, so I was thinking, well, it’s time for me to get out of this,” he said. “You never knew when you were going – I was always on call.”
Despite leaving the profession, Henry said he is thankful for the time he shared with the other firefighters.
“It was an adventure – I got to see a lot of the county,” he said. “It wasn’t for everybody. It was an experience; I guess I’m just adventurous. Maybe I still needed the adrenaline rush after Vietnam.”
Henry continued to work for the rentals company until 2002, when he shifted gears and concentrated more on his bait shop. He began volunteering more around the community – namely at the VFW. Currently, he helps cook breakfast there the first and third Sunday of each month.
“It’s for the youth fund,” Henry explained. “It goes for Christmas – Santa Claus, Easter bunny, picnic … and so on.
I cook the waffles, pancakes and French toast – and I entertain everybody,” he added, with a laugh.
Henry participates in the All Veterans organization, performing various tasks, such as presenting the color guard at school and public events, and assisting in Burial Rituals for the families of deceased veterans. He also recently joined the Moose Club and the Forgotten Eagles.
“They do everything for the veterans,” he said. “Everything they make goes to the veterans – all the money.”
The Schoolcraft County Medical Care Facility also sees Henry quite often – he and his brother perform karaoke every Thursday for its residents.
“We sing karaoke, and entertain them for a little bit,” he said. “They just love my dog, Midnight.”
Henry also makes yearly contributions to the
CBC (American Cancer Society, Bay Cliff Health Camp, and Community Charity) and the Schoolcraft County Search and Rescue. For the past 19 years, he picks one weekend a year and contributes all of the money earned from Henry’s Bait Shop to the organizations.
“I would contribute everything I made in those two days to the CBC,” he said. “I did it in honor of my son; we lost our son in a drowning.”
Though Henry no longer sells bait, he said he still gave his contribution, of nothing less than $100.
When asked how he felt about being selected as grand marshal for this year’s parade, Henry shrugged his shoulders modestly.
“I am and I ain’t,” he said.
He noted that he has been walking as a veteran for years, usually with one of his organizations, carrying a flag. He also detailed a past experience when he had been selected to serve as “parade king”.
Henry explained his grandchildren had written an essay about him that won a contest. He was then told about his honor at the parade.
“I said, ‘You got to be kidding me’,” Henry recalled. “I had a robe on and all that stuff.
I didn’t really want to do it, you know – I did it anyway,” he continued. “It gave me something to do – I threw some candy out the window.”
As for this year’s parade, Henry chalks it up to luck.
“They never found my bad points yet,” he joked.
Despite the uninvited spotlight, Henry said there’s no place else he’d rather be.
“I go to all them other states, I wouldn’t trade this state for nothing,” he said “I like it here – hunting and fishing. Cities weren’t for me – I couldn’t handle that; being around a bunch of people.”