Chuck Henry logged more than 2,000 volunteer hours at Schaumburg's Spring Valley Nature Center, but his role played second fiddle to the working draft horses he drove, who drew all the attention.
Henry was the iconic driver of the farm's horse-drawn wagon, which took families back in time to the nature center's 19th-century Volkening Heritage Farm. With his weathered straw hat and handlebar mustache, he looked every bit the part of a working farmer.
Volunteers at the farm now are mourning his passing. Henry died Monday from injuries he sustained in a one-car auto accident July 21, at Meacham and Algonquin roads in Schaumburg. He was 75.
"His role as a volunteer was specialized and demanding," said Judy Vito, volunteer coordinator, "but he helped to support a key feature of the Heritage Farm, its interpretive program."
Dave Brooks, conservation services manager, said Henry fulfilled one of the most labor-intensive jobs on the farm, other than milking the cows, by caring for the draft horses. He said it was a role few others wanted or could handle.
"The draft horses are a key component to our re-creation of 1880s farm life in Schaumburg, since they were the 'engines' of the farm, the precursors of the tractor," said Brooks. "Without them, a crucial aspect of life at that time would be missing."
Henry was drawn to the horses after growing up on a farm in southeast Michigan, where he worked the fields with his father and brothers.
"Our family farm didn't have a tractor," Henry said in a recent interview for Spring Valley's newsletter. "Everything was done by horse power."
It's been more than 50 years since Henry worked on his family's farm, but when he retired from his career as a stationary engineer, the first place he turned to volunteer was Heritage Farm.
At first, he helped out with the animals' maintenance and grooming, but two years ago, Henry instituted an exercise program for the draft horses.
"He'd get them harnessed up and out for a walk through Spring Valley approximately three times each week," Brooks said. "It was an immense help to the staff, but it also resulted in better trained and healthier horses."
Henry also volunteered his time doing maintenance work at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Schaumburg.
He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Diana, as well as three children and four grandchildren.
Services are pending.