Ken Henley is a resident of Armstrong’s Heaton Place Retirement Community. This is his story. (Carrie O’Neill)

Ken Henley is a resident of Armstrong’s Heaton Place Retirement Community. This is his story. (Carrie O’Neill)

Love comes full circle for senior Armstrong resident

Life served Ken Henley a lot of twists and turns, but love was a constant

Sharing stories and creating connections with the seniors at Heaton Place Retirement Community has been one of the most meaningful and rewarding part of Carrie O’Neill’s job.

“Seniors who reflect on their life experiences are often surprised and appreciative of how much they’ve been through,” she said.

Carrie has found those she has sat with have, without a doubt, been touched by the very thought that their lives matter to others.

In addition, sharing stories often leads to improved communication, which has been shown to reduce stress. Having someone to share life stories improves a person’s sense of self-worth and creates a special bond. And this is Ken Henley’s story.

Ken was born to Art Henley and Ada Bell-Irving in Comox on Feb. 28, 1928.

Ken Henley’s father, a First World War veteran, met his wife on Denman Island where she had a bee farm. The two would marry and have eight children together.

Ken and his family would move a few times until they eventually landed in Armstrong.

Ken attended the Old Brick School and mentioned that he was in Grade 1 with Glen Maw, another resident that lives at Heaton Place.

He was a shy guy in school but always participated in sports. When I asked Ken of his first girlfriend, he blushed and replied, “Her name was Norah Husband. I remember her sitting with me in my little school desk, it was pretty squishy.”

There were other girls, but in Grade 11 Ken said, “my real love” came along, her name was Mabel Louttit. This romance drifted apart after two years and in 1950, Ken would marry Flo Sturt and have five beautiful girls.

Soon after, Ken got a job in Powell River at the pulp and paper mill.

“They called me the broke hustler,” Ken said. “Every time the paper broke, I had to hustle.”

Ken was not fond of this job, so he left and quickly began working for a construction company. It wasn’t long after that he decided to join the Air Force. He was given several months leave without pay before reporting back, which gave him time to get things settled at home.

The couple would return to Armstrong and a few weeks later Ken would be sent off to Quebec for basic training.

Following training, Ken noted he had an interest in astronomy, so he was assigned to meteorology.

His role in the beginning was to take weather reports and plot maps for the forecasters.

This would be the beginning of a very long career in the Air Force and many stays in PMQ’s (Permanent Married Quarters).

Ken and his family would be moved every two to three years for the first decade of his time serving. The family was uprooted over and over again. The girls weren’t all that happy with this, Ken said, but they handled it OK.

Some of the bases they were posted to were St. Hubert and Longueuil, Que., Comox, B.C., Trenton, Ont., Churchill, Man., P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

Around the time the family was heading to Summerside, P.E.I., Ken said, “we took a train to Moncton, bought brand new shoes for the kids, and a 1956 Chevrolet.”

“Our very first brand new car,” he said.

Through hard work and constant upgrading with courses, his journey in the Air Force permitted him to excel and he would soon be instructing and overseeing the Radar department.

Some intensity came with this part of his career.

“I was asked to take charge of a funeral parade in Montreal for an Army soldier who lost his life serving our country,” Ken said.

Ken was asked to give the commands in French to the funeral party.

“This was real special for me,” he recalled.

Toward the end of his Air Force career, Ken would find himself at the 202 Workshop, (Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineer). Here, he would conduct research on problems with technical equipment. After his service in the Air Force, Ken was hired on with Environment Canada in Toronto and worked for them for the next 13 years up to his final retirement.

He jokes about the equipment back then being Wang Word Processors!

“My very first home computer was the Commodore 64 and it was the most fun machine I ever had,” Ken said.

Eventually, the family would buy their first home, a 100-year-old cottage-style, in Brantford. This wouldn’t be the last move though. In no time, they were off to Tillsonburg, in Tobacco Country.

This, however, was not fitting for Flo. It seemed this was the time that Flo began to become ill with dementia.

Consequently, the couple would move back to Brantford and end up buying the same 100-year-old home they once lived in.

As time went on, Flo became too ill to stay in the home and would eventually need more care.

“It was a sad and difficult time,” Ken said.

She eventually passed on.

During this time, Ken would carry on with life. Laughing, he tells me a story, “It was coming up on my 69th birthday and my daughter thought she would buy me a pair of roller blades! I told her I don’t want roller blades, they’ll kill me, buy me a tennis racket instead.”

Well, that is exactly what happened and Ken played tennis for the next 21 years, right up till he was 90 years old.

There was a little mishap with his heart in between, but he came back from a bypass surgery with flying colours.

Sometime later, Ken was emailing an old friend who mentioned to him that Mabel Louttit, back in Armstrong, had a computer …hint, hint! Before you know it, the two were emailing back and forth, and love began to stir.

Who says love can’t come around full circle?

“I used to dream of her from time to time,” Ken said. “And after we reconnected, I never dreamt of her again.”

He and his “true love” would rekindle their affection for one another and marry. The two of them would spend the next 15 years travelling and enjoying their lives together.

Similarly, both Ken and Mabel would have five children.

Three years after Mabel’s passing, Ken moved into Heaton Place where he enjoys having fun playing poker with his pals, and participating in happy hour every Friday. Ken has a great sense of humour and is well known for his funny T-shirts; they always give our residents and staff a little chuckle.

Telling stories can be healing. We all have within us access to a greater wisdom and we may not even know that until we speak out loud. Thank you Ken for speaking out loud!

— Carrie O’Neill is the resident relations co-ordinator at Heaton Place in Armstrong. These are the stories of its residents.

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