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Growing up in Buckingham

March 3, 2019

He might have risen to advise and polish executives for the federal government, but Laurin Henry has not forgotten his humble Buckingham roots.

Henry, now 97, has penned a 187-page memoir, “A Boyhood in Buckingham” for the Herscher Area Historical Society.

Henry is the son of the late Laurimer and Jeanette Wagner Henry. Henry would go on to marry Kathleen Jane Stephan, who now is deceased. The couple would have two children and one grandson.

Henry’s father was a one-man staff of the Farmers Bank of Buckingham. Tragically, he lost his job in the bank failures of the Great Depression, but got an odd lease on life. The next step of his career was a job closing down other banks.

That’s one of the many anecdotes in Henry’s memoir. It is an unusual book. Certainly it is not a full biography. The book really ends just as Henry’s career takes off. It is an unflinching look at small-town life in western Kankakee County before World War II. His first school had an outhouse. The only college-educated person in town was the Methodist minister.

It’s a pretty blunt book, too. Since Henry is nearing 100, virtually all of the people he writes about are deceased. The intimate book, though, points out which marriages failed. There are people profiled who might today qualify as learning disabled or having a psychological illness in the days before such things were treated.

It’s also a story of the innocence of days gone by. Henry was remembered as “smart-alecky” because he once sang “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” within earshot of the teacher. Henry had a day where he skipped school and ate walnuts instead.

He doesn’t spare himself in the book, either. It’s a time of first kisses and double dates. His life was unusual for the times because he was born in a hospital in 1921.

The book also chronicles the ways life changed in small towns. The railroad was a lifeblood. The economy changed when the good roads came in for automobiles. Thank you, Gov. Len Small. Merchants battled — almost always unsuccessfully — against their business migrating to the larger towns.

School districts succeeded or failed, Henry explained, because of busing. Those high schools that reached out with efficient bus systems survived. Those who saved money are with us no longer.

Buckingham itself was a town small enough to not have a cemetery. Henry gives a nice word picture of several towns during the 1930s, including Kankakee, Herscher, Cabery, Reddick and Bonfield. Every now and then, the book also has a surprise, such as a short-lived junior college in Reddick.

The book paints a nice picture, too, of Marwood Hendrix, who went on to become chairman of the Kankakee County Board. Hendrix was described as so hardworking, he was the only college student to ever send money home.

The book has an astonishing level of detail. Henry can remember his neighbors, teachers and classmates with a great deal of detail. There also are wistful moments, too. People he wished he would have stayed in contact with who now are gone forever.

In addition to the book, Henry passed on some artifacts to the Herscher museum as well, including stationery from the Farmers Bank of Buckingham and a bank calendar from 1932. The bank closed in 1931.

While most of the folks in the book and most of Henry’s contemporaries are long gone, there are two links to his Kankakee County past. Genevieve Berger, 98, grew up in Buckingham and now lives at Harvest View in Herscher. Karen Moritz, of Cullom, never knew her father. He died in World War II, but his life is covered in the book.