Student. Soldier. Businessman. Husband. Father.
These are just some of the roles that Henry Vanderminden III, or Hank to his friends, Papa to his family, filled in his more than eight decades on this earth.
Vanderminden, longtime Granville resident and community leader, passed away this past Wednesday, Nov. 19 at the age of 83.
Born in Brooklyn in 1925, he was seven years old when his family made the move to Granville in 1932. Although first World War II and then college lured him away for a few years, Vanderminden would return to the hometown that he loved to help his family’s business, Telescope Casual Furniture, grow and prosper. And in doing so, he helped contribute to the quality of life in the community.
Vanderminden, the son of the late Henry J.W., Jr., and Cecile (Huelsman) Vanderminden, grew up in Granville and later attended Vermont Academy for one year. It was a year that he would later credit to saving his life, according to his wife of 47 years, Marie.
He was drafted in 1943 and served in the US Army during WWII in the 83rd Infantry Division. But because he had taken an elective in Morse Code at the Academy, he became a radio operator in the service.
“Because he knew Morse Code he learned in high school, he was not carrying a rifle all the time,” Marie Vanderminden said. “That helped.”
Then there was the time his company, K Company, was about to set out on a really tough mission. Vanderminden loaded up a jeep with several rolls of extra wire for his radio equipment, but as he was about to move out, he was stopped from accompanying his company because the higher ups didn’t want to lose the jeep.
The company was later caught in a “mousetrap” maneuver, Marie recalled, and was lost, but her husband lived because of that jeep.
In all, he spent 18 months overseas with 11 months during combat. He served in six major battles in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge and Normandy. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of T5 corporal. He was awarded a bronze star for valor, as well as the Good Conduct Medal, EAME Service Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.
After the war, he attended Colgate College in Hamilton, N.Y., where he became a member of Sigma Chi. He graduated in 1950 with a BS degree in business.
He returned home to Granville, and joined his father, two uncles, and his brother, Robert Vanderminden, in the family business, Telescope, where he had a 51-year-long career.
Vanderminden, his family said, was the third generation to lead the Telescope Casual Furniture Inc., which celebrated its 100th year of business in 2003. During his years at Telescope he designed the “original mini-sun chaise” that has been and still is Telescope’s most popular beach chair.
He also enjoyed marketing and was instrumental in setting up an in-house print shop. His family said he was at the cutting edge of printing and inserting full color, four page photo advertisements in magazines in the 70’s when black and white line drawings were the norm. This revolutionized marketing for the company.
In 1954, he also coined the name “director’s chair,” a term that is now known universally for the folding wooden “deck chair.”
After serving the company for those 51 years, including a 30-year run as the company’s president starting in 1971, he retired in 2001.
The crowning glory of career came in 2003, when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Casual Furniture Industry. The award acknowledges “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the furniture industry and to their communities,” and is given by both the manufacture and retailer associations. This demonstrates that not only his customers but also his competitors recognized Vanderminden’s achievements.
Although his career was of great importance to him, his real pride was his family. He married Marie in 1961, and together they made their home and raised their four children, Cynthia, Henry IV, Andy and Chip, in Granville.
Camping out, snowmobiling, skiing on Killington Mountain, spending summers at their residence on Lake St. Catherine are just some of the memories his now-grown children cherish about him.
“Everyone was his favorite,” his daughter Cynthia recalled. “He would tell us, ‘you’re my favorite,’ and then say it to the next one.”
Cynthyia also recalled how Vanderminden, after a long day at work, would come home and still have the energy to get on all fours and let all four of his children jump on top of him. His “Mr. Animal” stories were another favorite memory.
Andy remembered his father’s good nature. “You couldn’t even get him angry,” he said.
And then there’s the trait that earned him the title of “The Grand Inquisitor” – he was always asking them questions, genuinely interested in learning more about those around him, be they family, friends, or just fellow human being. His family said he was genuinely interested in people, and in learning more about them, and the questions were a natural part of the process of getting to know them.
Marie said her husband was “nice to everyone,” and when they went out walking he would stop to chat with anyone and everyone along the way.
”He was more interested in finding out about them than he was about talking about himself,” she said.
That love he had of people was returned multifold. Marie said their Christmas card list grew each year as Vanderminden added new names to the list. And people continue to ask his children about their father.
“People still, even out on the road, ask me about my dad,” Henry said. “Competitors, customers. Everyone.”
Hobbies and interests
He loved baseball, rooting first the Brooklyn Dodgers and then, after they moved out, the Mets. He even had the good fortune to have his summer home in Florida close to where they Mets held their pre-season games and practices. Monday night bowling and
Recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and boats, and electronic ‘toys,’ especially those that were hard to find, were passions, as well, and stores that catered to those gadgets were sure to get his business.
“Radio Shack loved him,” Andy said.
He also kept everything, his family said, as two garages full of things, including a six-wheeler and a go-cart that was built by hand using wood from the company and a lawn mower engine, can attest.
He and his brother were the first to waterski on Lake St. Catherine, is another fun fact, and he even drove an Amphicar, an amphibious car, at Idlewild.
“He liked those gizmos,” his family recalled.
He was big into photography and videography, often getting ahold of cameras and movie cameras and video cameras as they became available. His daughter joked that she had the only doubled holstered camera-toting parents at every activity and event.
He loved to go out to eat, and whenever he ate out, he always had his signature drink, a Manhattan with so much cherry juice that it was bright red. His was dubbed by some as the Hank Van-Manhattan.
But perhaps more than anything else, Vanderminden was well known for his sense of humor, family and friends could agree.
“He was a character – we have lovingly called him “Mr. Hayes,” as in Gabby Hayes,” Marie said.
A quick wit, Marie’s “punny honey,” Vanderminden would constantly be telling jokes, and he had a seemingly endless supply of them, many collected from the salesmen and suppliers he came into contact with. His family would tell you that he liked every joke there was.
“What was his favorite, was taking a coffee break and going through the factory and telling jokes, and have them tell him jokes,” his son, Henry Vanderminden IV, recalled.
He said his father would always listen intently, even if it was a
joke he heard before, to hear if there would be some twist or variation that would make the joke fresh.
In later years, he enjoyed taking jokes and sanitizing them for the grandchildren, or else recreating the jokes to give them a different spin.
His daughter-in-law, Melissa, who is married to Andy, recalled how he would often call them up specifically just to share a really good joke he had just heard.
“If God could be said to give out purposes, then Hank’s purpose was to like people and make people feel good,” Marie said.
Vanderminden was an avid golfer, as well, and it was perhaps there on the links that Rick Roberts grew to knew him best. Although he grew up with Vanderminden’s children, Roberts’ own passion for golf brought the two of them together for many matches.
Roberts said he would most remember Vanderminden’s kindness.
“I always found Hank to be a particularly kind man, that’s the one trait he had that always seemed to shine through,” Roberts recalled. “He always had a good word for someone, and he carried through in the way he did his business, and the way he handled people in Granville.”
Roberts said, “You could always talk to Hank. He was never really one to put on airs that I could see. He was a pretty down to earth guy.”
He always seemed to do something good. A lot of people in a small community like this had a chance to interact with him, and I don’t find too many people that had a bad word to say about him.
“When you think about all the good things that Telescope has done for this community and for their customers, and a lot of those good things happened during Hank’s and Bob’s watch,” Robert said. “It was a good combination for Telescope, and for Granville.”
Roberts said he would also remember Vanderminden’s sense of humor.
“His sense of humor came through,” he said. “You could see that on the golf course. He always had a joke or a funny story to tell.”
Roberts expressed admiration for his spirit after the golf match, which he believed was a reflection of his spirit toward life.
“He had a smile when he came off of [the golf course],” Roberts said. “There is something to be said for that. Golf is a lot like life … you have your up days and your down days. No matter how he did that day on the golf course, he always had a smile on his face at the end of the day. That’s a real positive character trait, I think.”
Never one to pass up on opportunity to try something new, a couple of years ago, at around the age of 80, he tried skin boarding for the first time.
“I was afraid he was going to break his neck,” Marie recalled. “I tried to stop him, I really did.”
A helpful man
He was always helping individuals, his family recalled. He would sometimes purchase airline tickets for people who needed to travel to see sick relatives, or help in similar ways. He did it discretely so he wouldn’t be noted for it, his family said.
He would never talk about donations with his family, but Henry said stories would get out nonetheless, usually in the form of expressions of appreciation from those he played benefactor to.
The family remembered one guy who was a customer and then later became a sales rep for the company. This man’s sister died at 40 years old of lung cancer, leaving behind a young daughter. Vandeerminden heard about the situation and donated to the family.
He served on the board of Emma Laing Stevens Hospital, where three of his four children were born, and was a Director of Evergreen Bank, where he was on the Loans & Finance committee. He was also involved in Boy Scouts and Little League alongside his children.
Vanderminden was also a member of Granville Masonic Lodge #55.
Stew Dittmeier of the Granville Masons said Vanderminden served as a Mason for 57 years with the lodge, and was a Past Master of the organization. For most of the time that the Masons owned the building on the West Main Street, Vanderminden was also the President of the Temple Association, which was responsible for the care of the property and the grounds of the building.
“He was always, always willing to offer his time, talents and his support for projects we were involved in, whether it was in Granville, or in New York State Masonic Medical Research Laboratory,” Dittmeier said. “He was always first to step up and participate.”
Dittmeier said that he was a member of the Masons for the last 20 years, and Vanderminden had been helpful to his growth in the organization.
”Hank was always there to lend me a hand, as a young member growing up in the fraternity, and during my own term as Master of the Lodge,” he said.
But perhaps most importantly, he helped his family by setting a good example.
Henry, who is now Telescope’s president, said his father instilled in him a passion for the casual furniture business.
“For me, he gave me a real passion for the furniture business, and I think I have a lot of the same communication skills,” Henry said. “I don’t tell jokes, but I do joke around.”
Compassion, humility, kindness and the ability to forgive are other lessons his family have absorbed.
And then there is the lesson of family, too.
“I think what he gave his four children is the value of family, because it’s important to each and every one of them,” said Melissa.
“He was in many ways an ordinary man, but he was an extraordinary man,” Marie Vanderminden said.
“I’m going to call him St. Hank,” Marie quipped.