In Remembrance: Henry N. Barkhausen ’36 Died on October 6 2018

Henry Noyes Barkhausen of Lake Forest, Illinois—businessman, sailor, and conservationist—died peacefully on October 6, 2018, at age 103. 

Born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he was the son of Henry G. and Miriam Noyes Barkhausen and had an older sister, Helen, and younger sister, Kate.  

He attended the Choate School and then Yale University, majoring in history and writing for and helping to manage both school newspapers. He started at Harvard Business School, but dropped out when his father died. He returned to Chicago, to which his parents had moved in the late 1920s, and went to work, first for the Stewart-Warner manufacturing company and then Northwest Engineering, a company started by his father and uncle that made the first gasoline-powered mobile shovels, cranes, and draglines. 

With the rapid fall of France to the Germans in June 1940, Henry sensed the inevitability of war, enlisted in the Navy Reserves and enrolled in officers’ training.  A year later, with the growing belligerence of Japan, he received his orders to report for duty in the Pacific, securing a two-week delay to marry Alice Wyeth, whom he had first met as a young girl when his family owned a house in Palm Beach, Florida, where Alice’s father was a noted architect. 

Over almost four and a half years, Henry served on three Navy vessels, ending as a lieutenant commander in charge of the cargo ship USSBullock.  He was on the USSNechesoil tanker, the first ship to arrive in Pearl Harbor after the attack, and was soon reassigned to the PT boat tender USSHiloshortly before the Necheswas sunk by a Japanese torpedo with a substantial loss of life.

After the war, he and Alice settled in Lake Forest with their two daughters, Sarah and Joan, born during and at the end of the war.  Sons Henry, David, and John came along in subsequent years.

Henry returned to work for Northwest Engineering for 17 years as a sales executive.  A combination of frustration with the company’s leadership, a familiarity with the rock quarry business from his sales activities, and a desire to strike out on his own eventually led him to start a limestone quarry in Anna, Illinois, near the southern tip of the state, in the early 1960s.  It was sold in 1969, and, in the meantime, Henry and his partner opened another quarry in Batesville, Arkansas, that was sold in 1982.

The Arkansas operation required less of his time than the southern Illinois business and enabled him to accept an appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Conservation (now the IDNR) in 1970.  During his tenure in the administration of Gov. Richard Ogilvie, the department undertook its first comprehensive inventory of significant natural areas, greatly expanded Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, and acquired the initial land for Moraine Hills State Park near McHenry, saving it from imminent development as a gravel pit.

His relatively brief and successful time with the conservation department, coupled with Alice’s knowledge of and keen interest in the subject, led to his long and extensive involvement with conservation causes as a private citizen in subsequent years—as a trustee, board chairman, and then life trustee of the Illinois Nature Conservancy and, in particular, through perseverance and creative diplomacy dealing with public officials and farming interests, his pivotal role in preserving and helping to restore the Cache River Wetlands in southernmost Illinois, a wetland region of international significance on which federal and state agencies and private conservation organizations have collaborated and which boasts the greatest biodiversity found in Illinois.  That the Cache River Wetlands visitors center and natural history museum bears his name is a testament to his efforts. 

Beyond the conservation cause, Henry’s greatest outside interest was sailing and boats—of a particular kind: wooden and preferably gaff-rigged (i.e., a rectangular mainsail), and cruising, not racing—coupled with a fascination with the history of commercial sailing vessels on the Great Lakes, including how they were built, that began in childhood when he was captivated by the sight of the some of the few remaining cargo schooners along the docks in Green Bay.  

His cruising began in his teens as his father “indulged” him, he would confess, with a succession of boats in a way that some teenagers are spoiled with cars. With friends in his school days, alone with Alice in their younger and older years, and with their children in between, Henry cruised the northern Great Lakes—Michigan, Huron (including the North Channel and Georgian Bay), and occasionally the uninhabited north shore of Lake Superior—for close to 80 years.  For the last 40 of those years, it was on Champion, a 38-foot green gaff-rigged topsail cutter, mostly alone with Alice for a month at a time.  It was considerable work and occasionally challenging but a life that Alice loved as much as he did, for which enthusiasm he was endlessly grateful.  Brushing off concerns of their children, they continued these monthly cruises alone up to ages 92 and 87. 

In addition to sailing wooden boats, Henry built a number of them, beginning in the basement of their Lake Forest home, and continuing with a shop in a barn on their southern Illinois farm where they lived most of the year for over 30 years—and the last three since they moved back to Lake Forest in 2001, concluding with the sailing dinghy Final Effort, which he finished at age 100. Six of them are still afloat, including a small tugboat, Toiler(the only motorized craft), and kept near their summer home in Harbor Springs, Michigan. The largest, Good News, a 30-foot schooner modeled after a common commercial fishing boat used in northern Lake Michigan and Huron in the late 1900s and early twentieth century, was constructed over ten years on their farm.  Henry’s sailing and boat building activities were extensively chronicled (“A Great Lakes Mariner Remembers”) in the March/April 2015 issue of Wooden Boatmagazine.

Henry’s deep interest in the history of sailing vessels on the Great Lakes led him, with assistance from Elizabeth Cutler of Milwaukee (a daughter of Edmund Fitzgerald after whom the ill-fated freighter was named), to form the Association of Great Lakes Maritime Museums in 1984, which is now the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History with both institutional and individual members.  Until recent years, Henry and Alice attended regular meetings of the association at distant spots around the Great Lakes.

In addition, Henry has been a key supporter of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, with a particular focus on their collections.  He purchased a substantial volume of historical materials from a retired Great Lakes sailing captain from Manitowoc in the 1930s and later donated it and many other items to the museum, the foremost institution of its kind among the many maritime museums on the Great Lakes.

Henry was blessed with exceptional health, a sharp mind and memory, and unfailing taste buds until the last—all of which he used to good ends: continuing to give Alice a fulfilling and enjoyable life after she suffered a serious stroke 11 years ago, actively promoting his special causes, editing his memoirs that he began writing at age 101, and savoring every meal and vodka martini.  

Henry is survived by Alice, with whom he shared a remarkable 77 years, and his five children: Sarah (Ned) Rossiter of Concord, Massachusetts; Joan (David) Grubin of New York City; Henry (Lele) of Winnetka; David (Sue) of Lake Bluff; and John (Deborah) of Warren, Vermont; as well as 11 grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.   He was predeceased by his sisters, Helen Perry of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and Kate Geraghty of Glencoe and Harbor Springs, Michigan. His remains will be buried in the Lake Forest Cemetery and with his parents and sisters in the Friendship Township Cemetery outside Harbor Springs.  A service will be held at Lake Forest Place at a future date.

The family expresses their love and gratitude to Rosalind Edwards of Waukegan, who has helped Alice and Henry for the past 11 years and spent the summers away from her family with them in Michigan; and their appreciation of the attentive staff at Lake Forest Place, their home for most of the last 17 years; the expert care of Dr. Gerald Osher; and the recent support of the VITAS hospice agency.   

—Submitted by the family.

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