Time to record family history is now

By Regina Villiers. Originally published February 25, 1998 in The Suburban Life, added August 16, 2019.

Norbert Henke, left, and his brother, Daniel, show a display of old family photos as they talk about their family to the Madeira Historical Society.

     When we think of Madeira history, names of the earliest families, like Hosbrook, Muchmore and DeMar, immediately come to mind.  But history is happening all the time, and each era has its own family names and history.

     At a recent Madeira Historical Society meeting, Dan and Norbert Henke presented a program about the Henke family, which has been in Madeira for 100 years.

     Their grandparents, William and Wilhelmina “Minnie” Henke move to Madeira in 1905.  William had come to America from Germany in the 1880’s, seeking new opportunities. 

     When William and Minnie moved to Madeira, they built a house on the road that is now Shawnee Run.  At that time, the area was farmland.  The Henkes had orchards where they grew and sold such fruits as apples, pears and plums. They also raised livestock and grew hay and feed crops for the cows and hogs.

     Proving the truth of the adage, “the fruit falls close to the tree,” William and Minnie’s offspring stayed either in Madeira or nearby. Edward, the oldest, and the father of Norb and Dan, also built a house on Shawnee Run, the second house from Kenwood Road.  Albert built a house on Kenwood Road.  Helen (Henke) Beekley, the youngest of William and Minnie’s children, still lives in Madeira.

     Dan is retired after 30 years at Sycamore High School. He taught math, coached basketball for 17 years, and then went into administrative duties there until his retirement.

     Norb is also retired, after a career at Proctor and Gamble.

     Norb and Dan presented the historical program in tandem, with each taking turns with bits of family history and nostalgic remembrances. Both remember well their grandfather’s farm.

     Norb read excerpts from an autobiography he’s writing. He started the autobiography while taking a course at the University of Cincinnati.  His manuscript gives a vivid picture of growing up in the Cincinnati area, especially in Madeira, during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

     He described his grandparents’ house in detail.  It was heated with a coal-heating stove, and there was no running water.  The water supply came from a well and a cistern.

     He remembers butchering day as one of the big events of the year.  This provided the family’s meat supply and had to be done on one of the coldest days of the year, because the meat had to be chilled quickly and put in the smokehouse to cure.

     The events he remembers as the most fun are those involving the most work.  But a child would only remember the fun and not the backbreaking labor involved.

     Norb recalls most fondly the haying season, and of course, this is one of the hottest, hardest jobs a farmer has.  But Norb remembers collecting hay as being fun.

     He also remembers picking blackberries as fun, though he still hasn’t lost the memory of the torture of the chiggers he’d get when berry picking.

     His grandparents had fruit orchards, which produced lots of fruit.  Norb recalled the trips to sell the apples, pears, and plums.  

     One of his favorite things to do was to go get the cows from the pasture late in the evening and bring them up to the barn.  The cows had about 18 acres in pasture, giving them lots of room to roam around, or to lose themselves.

     Though Norb and Dan enjoyed the farm activities, life in those days was not all work.

     Much of the family entertainment centered around the radio. Programs like “One Man’s Family,” “Jack Armstrong, All American Boy,” and “The Lone Ranger” were anticipated eagerly. The radio brought world news to them through H.V. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter.  And Peter Grant of WLW kept them informed of the local scene.

     It figures that Norb would remember radio, Dan says.  In his mind lingers a picture of Norb, sprawled on the bed, listening to ballgames on the radio.

     That’s true, Norb admits.  He remembers the 1939 and 1940 World Series games.  He fondly recalls the names of his boyhood idols at Crosley Field:  Paul Deringer, Lucky Walters, Ernie Lombardi and Frank McCormick.

     During their boyhood years, Norb says, their lives revolved around family, friends and neighbors.  The Lutheran Church also influenced their family strongly.  Though they graduated from Madeira High School, they attended St. Paul Lutheran Elementary in Madisonville.

     Norbert Henke’s autobiography proves that each era has its own history.  History is always in the making, and the time to record it is now, as we are experiencing it.

William Henke, patriarch of the Henke family in Madeira, came to this country from Germany. He moved to Madeira in 1905.