Ken Hendricks

1 comment

Categories: Business

khendricks.jpgSelf-made roofing magnate Kenneth Albert Hendricks died on Dec. 21 after falling through the roof of his garage. He was 66.

Born in Janesville, Wis., Hendricks learned the roofing trade by working side-by-side with his father. Although he aspired to become an architect, life changed his plans.

Hendricks dropped out of high school at 17 when his girlfriend Diane became pregnant. To make ends meet, he worked two jobs: driving a repair truck for Wisconsin Power & Light and doing roofing gigs on the side. By the time he was 21, Hendricks was able to quit the power company and hire his own roofing crews. Within a decade, he had approximately 500 roofers working for him.

Hendricks married Diane and together they raised seven children. She fully supported his personal and professional endeavors and even started her own insurance company to sell low-cost policies to his contractors.

The hassle of dealing with multiple suppliers around the country inspired Hendricks to open a national supply distribution chain in 1982. Based in Beloit, Wis., American Builders & Contractors Supply employs 6,000 employees in nearly 400 locations and does about $3 billion in business a year. The company, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is the largest wholesaler of roofing supplies in the United States. Ken and Diane also owned a variety of businesses through the Hendricks Holding Co., and a property development group with more than 25 million square feet of industrial and commercial real estate. In 2006, Inc. magazine named him the Entrepreneur of the Year.

Despite being the 91st richest man in America — he was worth about $3.5 billion — Hendricks remained true to his blue collar roots. He wasn’t a member of a country club nor did he fly first class. He didn’t have a secretary, and was known for giving out his cell phone number to any employee who needed it. In his spare time, he enjoyed riding his motorcycle, spending time with friends and family and improving his community.

Hendricks was checking on the progress of construction on the roof over his garage when he fell through, suffering massive head injuries. Diane performed CPR until the police and paramedics arrived. Hendricks later died at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Winnebago County, Ill. A public viewing was attended by thousands of mourners.

“Ken was a true visionary who wanted the best for his hometown,” Wisconsin State Sen. Judy Robson said. “I respected Ken for his love of old architecture and industrial artifacts. That love drove him to preserve and transform some of our landmark properties in Beloit rather than bulldoze them. He helped turn blight into bright.”


A Look Back

Categories: Site News

hourglass.jpgSome people believe writing obituaries is a morbid job, but in truth, only one line deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people lead.

Whenever I hear about a death, I ask myself, “Did they live with passion? Did they accomplish great things? Did they touch other people’s lives in a positive or negative way? Did they contribute something to the world that was previously missing?” Then, I simply try to tell a good story using the facts at my disposal.

This year, I wrote more than 100 obituaries for The Blog of Death. I chronicled the lives of celebrities, criminals, artists, heroes and ordinary people who did extraordinary things. These obituaries were my personal favorites:

* Conrad Buchanan, a security guard who risked his life to save another
* Momofuku Ando, the inventor of “Chicken Ramen”
* Barbaro, the winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby
* Ken Black, one of the founders of the lighthouse preservation movement in the U.S.
* Robert Adler, the inventor of the TV remote control
* Brad Delp, the lead singer of the rock band Boston
* Lt. Jean Kennedy Schmidt, an American nurse who was held prisoner for nearly three years during World War II
* Jim Cronin, the owner of the Monkey World Ape Rescue Center
* Wayne Schenk, a New York man who won the lottery but was unable to use his winnings to save his life
* Wally Schirra, the only astronaut who flew in three of the U.S.’s pioneering space programs
* Yahweh Ben Yahweh, the infamous founder of a violent black supremacist sect
* Harvey Weinstein, a tuxedo manufacturer who was once kidnapped and buried alive
* Jan Romary, a champion foil fencer who competed in six Olympic Games
* Don Herbert, an actor who made science fun for millions of kids as “Mr. Wizard”
* Bob Evans, a restauranteur known for his fabulous sausage
* Matt Nagle, a quadriplegic who once participated in a mind-control experiment
* Irene Kirkaldy, a quiet icon of the civil rights era
* Leona Helmsley, a Manhattan hotelier with a reputation as the “Queen of Mean”
* Alex, the renowned African grey parrot who helped researchers better understand the avian brain
* Andre de Jongh, a Belgian nurse who helped hundreds of Allied airmen flee the Nazis during World War II

Side note: I also published more than 500 death notices on Writers We’ve Lost. Feel free to visit this blog and leave tributes to the writers, editors, journalists and authors who’ve died over the past year.


Herbert Saffir

No comments yet

Categories: Scientists

hsaffir.jpgHerbert Saffir, a structural engineer who helped design the category system for describing the strength of hurricanes, died on Nov. 21 from a heart attack. He was 90.

The native New Yorker earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, then moved to South Florida to work as an assistant county engineer. Although he would eventually design 50 bridges, the location of his new home sparked a life-long interest in hurricanes. Saffir soon immersed himself in the study of the weather phenomenon and its effects on buildings. This knowledge helped him write and unify building codes in the area.

In 1969, the United Nations asked Saffir to determine how the organization could help reduce wind damage to low-cost buildings worldwide. In response, he invented a scale that would measure the intensity of a storm, and thus determine the kind of damage it would do to an area.

Saffir’s scale, which ranked hurricanes from 1 to 5, were based on sustained wind speeds and the corresponding damage they caused. A Category 1 storm, for example, would have sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph. These conditions could uproot trees and blow over unanchored mobile homes. A Category 5 storm, which has sustained winds greater than 155 mph, could completely destroy structures in the storm’s path, no matter how well they are engineered. Before Saffir devised his scale, meteorologists simply described hurricanes as “major” or “minor” storms.

In the 1970s, Robert H. Simpson, then director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center, expanded Saffir’s scale to include possible storm-surge heights for each category. The revised system, known as the Saffir-Simpson scale became the standard by which all Atlantic Ocean-based hurricanes are rated.

During the final years of his life, Saffir continued to work as a structural engineer in South Florida. An advocate of stronger building codes in hurricane-prone areas, he also penned numerous articles on how to design buildings with high wind resistance and lobbied for tougher enforcement of building codes.


Lillian Ellison


Categories: Actors, Sports, Writers/Editors

lellison.jpgMary Lillian Ellison, the first woman inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, died on Nov. 2 from complications of shoulder-replacement surgery. She was 84.

Born in the tiny community of Tookiedoo, S.C., Ellison was the youngest of 13 children and the only girl in the family. After her mother died when she was 10 years old, Ellison and her father began spending Tuesday evenings attending local professional wrestling matches. These nights away from her 12 brothers gave Ellison the opportunity to develop a relationship with her father; they also inspired her to conquer the male-dominated world of professional wrestling.

Ellison was just a teenager when she began working as a valet, a job that involved serving as both helper and eye candy to the male wrestlers. She worked her way up through the ranks, from wrestling promoter to trainer to manager, always demanding top dollar for her boys, most notably “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.

In the late 1940s, Ellison decided to enter the ring herself. After training with Mildred Burke, a champion female wrestler, Ellison took to the squared circle. She adopted the name “The Fabulous Moolah” because the moniker perfectly described why she became a wrestler. “I want to wrestle for the moolah!” she’d often declare. When Burke retired in 1956, Ellison defeated Judy Grable in a tournament and won the “women’s world title.” She would retain her championship status for 28 years.

Although female wrestling used to be illegal in many states, Ellison was a star on the circuit. In the ring, the 5-foot-4-inch, 118 lb. wrestler had a huge personality and a vast repertoire of kicks and holds. Her signature move was called a “backbreaker,” but she would also do scissor kicks, monkey flips and clotheslines to keep her opponents from getting the upper hand. On her own, or alongside her partner in crime Mae Young, Ellison’s antics earned her the love — and enmity — of wrestling fans.

“Used to be, the crowd would always cheer for whoever I was going against. That was okay; I loved for the fans to hate me. It made me put on a better show. I’ll show you, I’d say to myself when I’d hear them call me ‘Bitch!’ or ‘SOB!’ — two fo my favorite, uh, nicknames,” she wrote in her 2002 autobiography, “The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle,” written with Larry Platt. The memoir also provided candid insights about the times she spent hanging out with celebrities such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Ellison became a mother at 14. She married and divorced five times, and once turned down a proposal from long-time boyfriend and country music singer Hank Williams. She never officially retired from the fighting circuit, despite suffering numerous broken bones over the years, and even wrestled a match on her 80th birthday. In 1995, she became the first woman to be inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. Her career was later profiled in the 2004 documentary, “Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling.”

When she wasn’t performing or appearing at special events, Ellison was busy training generations of wrestlers at her school on Moolah Drive in Columbia, S.C. One of her most notable students was Katie “Diamond Lil” Glass, a professional midget wrestler who became Ellison’s adopted daughter. Ellison also had six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Listen to a Tribute From NPR


André de Jongh


Categories: Heroes

adejongh.jpgAndré “Dédée” de Jongh, a beautiful Belgian nurse who helped hundreds of Allied airmen flee the Nazis during World War II, died on Oct. 13. Cause of death was not released. She was 90.

Born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, De Jongh was the youngest daughter of a Brussels schoolteacher. She trained as a nurse, but made a living as a commercial artist while volunteering for the Belgian Red Cross.
When the German army invaded Belgium in 1940, the 24-year-old decided to fight back. After much planning, she and her father began setting up a chain of safe houses from Brussels to the Spanish border to secretly harbor Allied forces from the German troops.

Although the British initially suspected a Gestapo trap, De Jongh convinced an intelligence officer from the British Embassy in Bilbao of her sincere wish to help. He agreed to reimburse her travel costs if she could successfully rescue Allied pilots, radio operators and navigators downed in Belgium. She did so, and in 1940, the Comet Line was born. De Jongh was given the code name “Postman,” though most members of the Resistance called her “Dédée.”

The Comet Line, a 1,000-mile trek through Belgium and occupied France, across the Pyrenees into Spain’s Basque country and out via the British colony of Gibraltar, allowed American and British aviators to escape German imprisonment. The route required the assistance of hundreds of Resistance supporters, all of whom risked arrest, torture and death for participating in the scheme. At the time, helping downed fliers escape was considered a capital offense. Organizers would recover fallen airmen, procure civilian clothing and fake identity papers, give medical aid to the wounded and provide both food and shelter to the men as they were led to safety.

De Jongh was escorting a soldier over the Pyrenees in January 1943 when a German collaborator betrayed her. The Germans interrogated her 20 times, but they refused to believe that this pretty, petite woman was the ringleader behind the Comet Line. At the time of her arrest, De Jongh had personally led 116 men, including more than 80 downed airman, over the mountains to safety. During its three years in operation, the Comet Line saved more than 700 pilots and soldiers.
For her participation, De Jongh spent nearly three years in prisons and concentration camps. When Allied armies liberated her from Ravensbruck, she was shaven, undernourished and gravely ill. Other participants in the Comet Line were not as fortunate; they were executed or died in the camps. De Jongh’s own father, Frédéric, faced a firing squad in 1944 for his participation.

After the war ended, De Jongh regained her health and returning to nursing. She spent several years working at a leper colony in the Belgian Congo, then became a matron at a hospital in Ethiopia.

In 1946, De Jongh received the George Medal, the highest civilian award for bravery available in Britain to a foreigner. For choosing “one of the most perilous assignments of the war,” she also received the Medal of Freedom With Golden Palm, America’s highest award presented to foreigners. The French named her a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur and the Belgians appointed her a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and honored her with the Croix de Guerre With Palm. In 1985, King Baudouin elevated her to a countess.

De Jongh’s exploits during World War II were chronicled in numerous books, including “Little Cyclone” by Airey Neave (1954), “Silent Heroes: Downed Airmen and the French Underground” by Sherri Greene Ottis (2001) and “The Freedom Line: The Brave Men and Women Who Rescued Allied Airmen From the Nazis During World War II” by Peter Eisner (2004).

1 2 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 326 327