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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Bert Henry, invalid

In March of 1937 the Pantagraph told the heartwarming story of Bert Henry, a man who was overcoming dramatic physical injuries in Bloomington. He lived at 605 N. Oak Street with his parents, but had been a farmer in Twin Grove in the past. An injury during a party, a fall from a cardboard box he was standing on while addressing a crowd, caused an injury to his spine when he was only eighteen. After that, he knew that he had difficulty walking, but he continued to plow fields behind a team of horses and do other farm work. Doctors told him that he had a form of arthritis, brought on by the fall.

He took baths at Peoria, which seemed to help his condition and he returned to farming with new energy. He started out on his own as a farmer in 1919 (four years after he married Maud King in 1915). Years later he was kicked in the spine by a dairy cow, twice. Once again his spine was injured and this time one of his legs was not performing naturally. He compensated by riding a horse behind the plow rather than walking.

In 1923 an automobile accident added another injury to his spine. While on a fishing trip with three buddies, the car overturned, seriously injuring one man, but Bert did not think he had an injury, but in time he needed canes to even walk. Eventually, he was unable to walk at all. He went to an unnamed, nationally known hospital for ten days. The doctors there told him he would not walk again -- and that he had less than a year to live.

Bert outlived their expectations however, as an invalid. His marriage failed and his wife returned to the home of her parents with their four children. Bert lived with his parents. In his basement they constructed a stationary bicycle with a motor that turned the pedals. Bert's feet would be strapped to the pedals so that his muscles could be forced into action and retain some tone.

Some of Bert's biggest fans were the Bloomington police. They admired Bert's positive attitude. Bert was known for his ready smile and uncomplaining outlook on life. He was grateful for his continued existence and the friends he had. Twice a month a police cruiser would come to Bert's house and transport him to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he received treatments. " ' Glory!' he exclaimed with his smile flashing his even white teeth, 'You wouldn't think everybody would be so interested in me. But they are People go out of their way to take me for automobile rides. And think of all those trips the boys (meaning the police) have made for me. And they carry me around like a baby too.' " The police had even convinced St. Joseph's Hospital to give Bert a wheelchair so he could get about his neighborhood on his own.

Such tales of perseverance and ingenuity were popular in the paper. Everyone had it hard during the Depression, but with cheerfulness, even greater troubles could be made less onerous.

Bert Henry died five years later in St. Joseph's Hospital after a "long illness."

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