By Kathy Florence For The Crier
Bob Hendrickson paid $5 for his first car.
It was a beat-up 1925 Model T Ford with no top — a four-seater open touring model.
Hendrickson, a Dunwoody resident since 1996, was 19 at the time. He completely rebuilt the engine on the 11-year old car before buying a 1930 Model A sedan three years later.
And each of the more than 25 cars that he’s owned in the years between are as fresh in his mind as his current Ford Focus station wagon — due to a knife-sharp mind that’s as impressive with current events as it is with the past ten decades of memories, and the scrapbooks he’s carefully kept to document each vehicle with photographs and purchase receipts.
Bob will turn 100 this summer.
He has kept a similar scrapbook for each of the homes he and his late wife Ethel purchased during their 68 years of marriage, beginning with their first home, a bungalow inQueens,N.Y.The home was concrete block with a brick face, two bedrooms, a full basement and a coal furnace for steam heat. They financed the $3,990 purchase price with a 6.75 percent mortgage. A photo of the home and the documentation is in his scrapbook.
Likewise, he has an elaborate family tree he created, complete with important dates, college degrees and current employment for each family member.
And he describes in detail the two boats he built from scratch: one a 14-foot, flat-bottomed sailboat with a centerboard; the other a V-bottomed 12-foot car-top plywood boat with a 3-horsepower outboard motor.
His penchant for documentation is complemented by a full array of hobbies and interests that range from photography, the stock market and ancient history, to his children and grandchildren. He watches the History Channel, business-related programs on CNBC, “NCIS Los Angeles” and has a daily afternoon date with the Steve Harvey Show.
He still enjoys cooking. (This reporter enjoyed a scrumptious rice pudding he’d made for an evening’s dessert when he was hosting his 90-year old neighbor Bob Whitfield, also a widower, who sings in the choir and does his own yard work. Yet another great story to tell.)
Hendrickson does his own grocery shopping, enjoys financial planning and works his schedule around a Monday evening ritual phone call with his son inMassachusetts.
Until just a few years ago, he picked up his grandchildren at Kingsley or the bus stop after school each afternoon and did his own yard work. But a fall in 2013, a mini stroke, and a case of edema have slowed him down a bit.
He had let his driver’s license expire on his last birthday, but then realized he would need it for banking, so he renewed for another five years, though he now leaves the driving to two full-time caregivers who alternate weeks in his Dunwoody home to provide driving, cooking and sharing in conversation and favorite shows. He has a walker but doesn’t like to use it, and opts for a cane instead. He loves clipping coupons, but avoids Wednesday shopping because of the senior citizen crowds. He’s an avid reader of theAtlantanewspaper and The Dunwoody Crier, and always has his binoculars handy for bird watching.
Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the College of the City ofNew York. He began work as a mail boy with Western Electric in 1931 with a delivery route than ran throughManhattanbetween Western Electric and what was then Bell Laboratories. He retired with the same company 45 years later as the company’s financial vice president.
He met Ethel when he was 21 and she was 24, though they had grown up just three blocks from one another in Queens’SpringfieldGardens. They married in 1938 and had two sons.
Hendrickson had two brothers in the service, one a fighter pilot who was shot down overNormandyand survived for three months in the basement of a farmhouse before being rescued. As a husband, a father and the brother of two soldiers, he was initially excused from active military service, but in the early 1940s when the country was desperate for soldiers, he applied for a Navy radar technician program to service radar and sonar systems. He passed the exams and physical, but the program was discontinued when Hitler surrendered in 1945, just days before he was to report.
So instead he joined the New York Civil Patrol Corps, a city-wide voluntary group of civilians that patrolled the streets during a time when police forces were sparse because of the war. For three years, he was one of 60 volunteers that would report at 8 p.m. every fourth night to patrolQueensCounty. The patrols wore military pants and jackets and if qualified, were issued a 38-calibur revolver and a night stick.
“I never had to use my gun,” said Hendrickson. “But there was a guy threatening some folks at a carnival inQueensVillageone night. I jabbed him in the gut and gave him a little lesson.”
Western Electric took the Hendricksons fromNew YorktoAllentown,Pa.,Winston-Salem,Washington, D.C.,Chicago,OklahomaCity and back toNew Yorkbefore he retired in 1976.
Ethel attended business school to learn bookkeeping and typing, but her love was knitting and embroidery. She and her mother knitted sweaters for soldiers and for years she made blankets and booties and hand-embroidered sweaters for children. She was 95 when she died in 2006.
The Hendricksons were active in their churches and joined St. Martin’s in the Fields Episcopal Church when they moved toAtlanta. Five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren now join their two sons, Bob and Tom.
A favorite car for this car lover? “Perhaps the 1932 Studebaker Dictator Eight,” said Bob. He purchased the four-door, two-toned blue and gray vehicle from Ethel’s aunt.
“It had 2700 miles on it when I got it. It had chrome artillery wheels with thick spokes, white wall tires and a hill-holder device,” he described.
Hendrickson’s detailed documentation lists the Dictator Eight followed by three more Studebakers all purchased new: a 1950 Studebaker Champion, a 1952 Studebaker V-Eight and 1956 Studebaker President before moving to a Ford in 1962. When he doesn’t have photographs of the actual car he owned, he has substituted a maker’s photo of the model.
Just a few weeks shy of his 100th birthday, Hendrickson hasn’t forgotten that it’s time to also lubricate the grandmother clock that he and Ethel purchased many years ago.
“I keep a record of its maintenance and I lubricate the workings every three years,” he said.
Time marches on for that finely crafted, beautifully maintained favorite clock.
Similarly, Robert Wilbur Hendrickson turns 100 on August 20.