93-year-old hosts vintage car show at Carol Stream retirement community

  • Don Henry, 93, will welcome fellow members of his car club to a show Sunday at Windsor Park in Carol Stream. Pictures of a 1937 Chevrolet he restored as a "labor of love" hang on the walls of his apartment in the retirement community.

      Don Henry, 93, will welcome fellow members of his car club to a show Sunday at Windsor Park in Carol Stream. Pictures of a 1937 Chevrolet he restored as a "labor of love" hang on the walls of his apartment in the retirement community. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • "The accomplishment, the fact that I was able to do it sort of gave me a lot of satisfaction," Don Henry said of restoring classic cars. Among his collection was a 1952 half-ton Chevy truck.

    "The accomplishment, the fact that I was able to do it sort of gave me a lot of satisfaction," Don Henry said of restoring classic cars. Among his collection was a 1952 half-ton Chevy truck. courtesy of Don Henry

  • Don Henry bought a 1961 Chevy Impala fully restored as a "tour" car for trips around the country with fellow members of the Great Lakes Chevrolet Club.

    Don Henry bought a 1961 Chevy Impala fully restored as a "tour" car for trips around the country with fellow members of the Great Lakes Chevrolet Club. courtesy of Don Henry

  • Don Henry, 93, is organizing a car show at Windsor Park retirement community in Carol Stream.

      Don Henry, 93, is organizing a car show at Windsor Park retirement community in Carol Stream. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Don Henry's first car.

    Don Henry's first car. Photo courtesy of Don Henry

 
 
Updated 8/10/2017 12:49 PM

Don Henry's restoration of classic cars was more than a hobby.

Rebuilding a 1937 Chevrolet offered him a challenge. Henry was a product of the Great Depression, a man who would work six days a week supporting his family and believed in seeing a task through to the end.

 

"I started the job, and I wanted to finish it," Henry said.

He finished the meticulous restoration job after nine years. His first Chevrolet became his favorite in a collection he eventually had to sell after he could no longer maintain the cars to his high standards.

But even if he can't work under the hood anymore, the 93-year-old World War II veteran has found an outlet for his passion.

Henry and his wife, Marge, moved into the Windsor Park retirement community in Carol Stream seven months ago. He looked out the window of his new apartment at a two-lane road around gardens and a gazebo and knew it was the perfect setting for a car show.

Henry approached the folks in charge of activities at Windsor Park about his idea. Everyone, he said, was "gung-ho."

Henry now serves as the unofficial promoter of the car show that will feature more than two dozen models on Sunday. It's all he can talk about with his neighbors around Windsor Park.

"They will walk around, see the old cars, and go, 'I remember my dad owned one of those Chevys,'" Henry said. "That will give me a lot of pleasure."

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There were no Chevy men in Henry's family. His father liked "the independents."

"In fact, the first car I ever learned to drive on was a 1929 Marmon, and you've never heard of that," Henry said.

He bought that first Chevy for $250 on a whim. He spotted it on the side of the road during a trip with his wife and in-laws to Peoria in the 1970s. He vividly remembers the rip in the right vendor.

"I was always handy, and I always thought if I ever found an old car, I'd like to see what I could do with it," said Henry, who worked for construction and cabinet supply companies.

Though self-taught, Henry restored the car to such mint condition that he won preservation awards at shows.

"It was a labor of love, and I had to learn as I went along," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He did make errors in judgment. He painted the engine a "gorgeous" red, for example, but a fellow member of Great Lakes Chevrolet Club told him it had to go.

"The six-cylinder Chevys were always a gray," Henry said.

He and his wife have remained active with the club for nearly 40 years. The couple will welcome members from the regional group and other chapters at Sunday's car show.

"Most car clubs are for men," Marge Henry said. "This one isn't. We see each other once a month, and we're more or less family."

They were a tight-knit bunch on road trips her husband organized for club members who drove their beauties around the country.

"Once they're done, we don't just put them on display," he said. "We like to drive them."

His collection included a 1952 half-ton, red Chevy truck he restored over about a decade and a 1961 Chevy Impala he bought already restored.

But he still can't speak of parting ways with the 1937 model without tears. A dealer wanted to buy the car just by looking at a picture Henry brought to a show in Sandwich.

"Oh, it hurt to see that thing go down the street after I owned it all those years," he said.

The show at Windsor Park will surely stir those bittersweet memories, but he looks forward to being among his close friends from the club and, of course, the old cars.

"Like we always would be," he said.

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