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An Extraordinary Life: Jay Henry was ‘the anchor of the faith in the family’

Former Herald-News district manager was known for his good character and inner strength

The poem “One Solitary Life,” which is attributed to James Allan Francis, lists the ways Jesus was not “great,” according to the world’s standards, and yet impacted the world.

Likewise, former Joliet resident Walter Jay Henry of Texas didn’t leave behind walls covered with certificates and awards. He left a solid example of his faith in God, which he lived prayerfully and humbly.

Through the years, Jay worked in various capacities, including managing a Walmart store and overseeing newspaper carriers at The Herald-News, starting in 2001. The Herald News named Jay as its January 2004 Employee of the Month.

Although Jay had a good work ethic, Jay’s wife, DeeDee Henry of Texas, said it was Jay’s character and faith that stood out to people, and she hopes that anyone who reads about Jay will be inspired to “walk in faith and come to know Jesus.”

Chad Henry of New Lenox, Jay’s son, echoed DeeDee’s sentiments.

“He had an unbelievable strength about him,” Chad said. “It wasn’t the traditional worldly strength everyone sees or expects. The strength was to be silent or to be humble, which, to me is more manly than the world describes.”

From where did this strong faith come?

DeeDee Henry

DeeDee believes it began during Jay’s teen years when he attended a private school on the North Side of Chicago and immersed himself in the weekly youth activities. Jay’s house was on the way, so DeeDee, age 16 at the time, provided his transportation. DeeDee found talking to Jay easy, and soon the two friends were dating.

“Then my mom, who is very outspoken, said to Jay, ‘So, Walter, what are you going to get DeeDee for her birthday?’” DeeDee said. “And Jay said, ‘I hadn’t thought about it.’”

DeeDee said her mother suggested a ring.

“And that’s how we got engaged on my 17th birthday,” DeeDee said.

DeeDee said Jay had a naturally beautiful singing voice. Jay sang with a youth group, in competitions, in solos at church, at his and DeeDee’s wedding, and for the weddings and funerals of people he knew. Jay later trained his three children to sing, DeeDee said.

Jay studied music at Baptist Bible College in Missouri and Moody College in Chicago, DeeDee said. Jay later studied business at Rasmussen University in Romeoville, she added.

He loved singing Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman to Me” to DeeDee because of the line, “She’ll carelessly cut you and laugh while you’re bleeding.” That reminded Jay of the time he and DeeDee were goofing around and DeeDee’s earring caught in his nose, causing them both to laugh.

After Jay’s “amazing voice,” DeeDee said she loved his sense of humor.

“We just laughed together all the time,” she said.

Jillian Leach

Jillian Leach of Plainfield, Jay’s oldest daughter, said Jay loved to quote James 4:17: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” when the kids left their socks on the floor and wouldn’t pick them up.

She said her father was the “principal” in their home-school (DeeDee was the teacher), but he took a leadership role at Bible Baptist Church, where the entire Henry family was active. Jay helped with the Awana program and with dramas the youth group performed, sometimes in conjunction with competition with other area youth groups.

Jillian recalled the time Jay rewrote an entire script one week before showtime.

“”I had everything memorized but it [the script Jay used] wasn’t biblically accurate,” Jillian said. “He wanted to make sure that everything I did was biblically accurate. It was important to him that we knew God’s word and we knew it well.”

Jillian said she and Jay sometimes clashed because their personalities were similar. But she said she also relied on his patience and advice.

“He was always the one I called when I needed wisdom and insight and perspective,” Jillian said.

Chad Henry

Chad recalled how Jay taught him the lesson of “The women in our life are sacred and need to be treated as such.”

A bit of a “grizzly bear” in his youth, Chad recalled a time he had defied DeeDee, and Jay quickly sat him down, saying, “That’s my wife and I’ll fight anybody for her.”

Chad said he needed to hear those words, and his father never wavered on that stance.

“It took me off the pedestal I had put myself on,” Chad said.

Chad said he respected and admired his father’s ability “to love tenderly and to display that love every day to the women in his life.” Jay also took his role as provider very seriously – as breadwinner and also as the spiritual head of the household, because Jay was very focused on his faith and read the Bible each day, Chad said.

“He was actually the anchor of the faith in the family,” Chad said. “He was the one constantly reminding us to stand on the word, constantly praying for us.”

Jenni Bradley

Jenni Bradley of Texas, Jay’s youngest daughter, said Jay had a “gentle way about him” and “knew no strangers.” He gave everyone an attentive, listening ear. Jenni recalled her battle with shyness and the way Jay addressed it.

“He would say, ‘You take that shy girl and put her into your pocket,’” Jenni said. “‘You’re not a shy girl. You’re a brave girl.’ I try to remember that on days that I don’t want to do anything or can’t do anything.”

Last days

DeeDee said when Jay was hospitalized for bacterial pneumonia, all three children rallied to help. Chad “set up camp” outside Jay’s window and worked there from his laptop.

The plan eventually was to move Jay to a rehabilitation facility to strengthen his lungs, DeeDee said. In fact, Jay had said he was feeling better and let his family know he was praying for them, DeeDee said.

Jay’s prayerful faith even at his sickest impacted every nurse who cared for Jay, Jenni said.

“He touched everybody,” Jenni said.

DeeDee said Jay’s unconditional love for God and for his family, even near the end, was “amazing.”

“His last words were, ‘This is God’s will,’” DeeDee said. “At the lowest moment of his life and struggling to breathe, he was focused on God.”

Walter Jay Henry died Sept. 16, 2021. He was 58.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.