A Life's Work

Marganelle Henry builds a legacy of making a difference.
Feb 1, 2015
Tammy Davis

Over the years, the surname Henry has become highly recognizable in Fort Wayne. Jessica Henry runs the Allen County SPCA. Jerry Jr. is a well-known entrepreneur who owns all or part of several local steel companies. Tom, of course, is the mayor. And they are just three of the 17 children who have distinguished the family name, as have several of the grandchildren. One Henry, however, tends to stay behind the scenes, though she may be the most influential of all—Marganelle, the family matriarch.

When she was young, Margie Applegate dreamed of becoming an artist. Her creative mind constantly sought an outlet; she fashioned pictures from flowers, formed clay from mud and crafted unique beads. Little did she know that, as time unfolded, her own life would become her most important masterpiece.

Not long after graduating from high school, Margie attended a dance sponsored by Catholic Young Adults, where she caught the eye of Jerome Henry. Margie turned him down when he asked for a date, but Jerry didn’t give up. When she finally agreed to go tobogganing with him a few months later, she fell hard…for Jerry that is. 

Margie and Jerry married in 1949 and their life together began at full speed. The couple went straight from their honeymoon to Indiana University where Jerry was pursuing a graduate degree in social work. It didn’t matter to Margie that they lived in student housing, which consisted of a trailer with no plumbing, or that they had to share a central restroom facility. “It was wonderful,” she reminisces. “When you’re in love, you’re in love with the dream, not just the guy.”

While Jerry finished his studies, the Henrys welcomed two children into their family with a third due shortly after he received his graduate degree. Jerry’s career took the family to several cities in Michigan and Indiana before they finally landed permanently back in Fort Wayne where he served as director of Catholic Social Services. Over time, the family grew to include 11 sons and six daughters and, though money was scarce, love was plentiful.

Margie laughs as she remembers, “We had eight children before we even had a car!”

She has so many stories. Margie’s eyes light up even before her words tell the tales—like the time two of her boys went on a bus trip to watch a ballgame in Chicago. By the time they arrived, they had auctioned off their lunches to earn enough money to buy whatever they wanted to eat at the ballpark. Or the time her two sets of twins rode their tricycles around and around their Christmas tree. After they knocked over the huge pine one too many times, Jerry chopped it off. He shoved the miniature version into the tree base just as his mother arrived with her friends to see what they had been told was a majestic centerpiece for the room.

As Margie talks, the stories tumble out. She tells how the boys used to pick on the girls until “they either got tough or got bossy.” She tells how her husband could barely keep a straight face whenever they were called in to discuss one of their children’s antics with a teacher. She also tells on herself and how she had to let go of her worry and let her kids just be kids.

Today they’re all grown and, although Jerome and one son, Timothy, have passed away, most of Margie’s family is nearby. She’s more proud of them than ever, for she believes that they’ve taken to heart the most important lesson she had to teach them. In her words:

In this immense world of souls, each one of us is as important as the next. We’re all here to be part of that—what an immense responsibility! It’s all about loving each other, from the outrageous to the decent, from the worst to the finest. It all has to come together and it all depends on us.

Margie asks herself every day, “What can I do in my place right here?” She has spent her life trying to find ways to make a difference and to instill that ethic in her 17 children. And although they’re very human—they’re fragile and they make mistakes—they all have feelings for others and are eager to help.

It’s her legacy, but Margie won’t take credit. “Jerry had the dream,” she says, “and I went for it. I didn’t think as big, but I appreciated it and helped make it happen.”

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