Thursday, December 31, 2015

Aunt Angie

Climbing My Family Tree: Angela Henn Bollinger Ver Ploeg
Angela Henn Bollinger Ver Ploeg
photo gifted me by Angie's cousin, JD (used with permission)
Click to make bigger

In early December, I started looking further up my Bennett line, having connected with a distant cousin (BJ) on that line who connected at the person I thought might be my 3rd great grandfather (since we connected through my Dad’s DNA test, it’s more than likely that he is my 3rd great grandfather!). BJ didn’t have a lot going down my line, so, this time, I had something to share. She did have some more on the early life of my 2nd great grandfather, William Bennett, the one who left the “old country” to come to North America that I look forward to sharing in a future “prequel” post. Combining her information and mine, I’d also started finding more on his siblings and his parents, and I was so looking forward to sharing that with my family, especially my Aunt Angie, because she would be so interested. But I didn't get to share it with her.

My aunt Angie, Dad’s sister, died the Friday before Christmas. She was the one who led me into family history. She was fiercely proud of her family and did not want her family stories to be forgotten. She would send emails out to everyone detailing her memories of family stories. She would answer almost every question I asked her and was always excited by my newest discoveries, and, last summer, when I asked her to give me a DNA sample, she eagerly agreed. But now, I wish I had asked her more about herself and her life because in writing this post I realize that there is a lot I don’t know. Or rather, that I had asked more, and sooner, because I did ask her some questions about her own life but she was at first too busy packing to move, and then too sick, to have the energy to respond.  But I do want to share some of my Aunt Angie because she was one of the most admirable, fiercest, faith-filled women I know. She did not have an easy life but she fully lived the life she was given.

Angela Joy Henn was born to Owen Carl and Anna Mae Henn, their third child, and first daughter, on December 17, 1934. At that time, they lived at 39 Denison Ave. in a neighborhood southwest of Dayton Ohio. When Angie was a young child, her parents inherited $500 and bought property in Jefferson Township, Southwest of Dayton, initially moving into a one-room dirt-floored garage on the property while they built a home on the property. My granddad built the house by hand, room by room, with the help of his children. They moved into the house as it was built – after they finished the living room they moved out of the garage and into the living room and expanded out as more rooms were completed.

Climbing My Family Tree: Henn Home in Jefferson Twp Montgomery County Ohio built by my grandpa and the kids
Henn Home in Jefferson Twp Montgomery County Ohio,
built by my grandpa and the kids.
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Angie helped her father and brothers build the house. In a book I compiled of my father’s memories of growing up, my Dad remembered one occasion when Angie, who was under eight years old, was helping their father put up the chimney, their father had jury-rigged a scaffold, and Angie was up on the scaffold helping him lay bricks, wearing a nail apron when she stepped on an apron string and fell off the scaffold. She fell through the kitchen ceiling below (which was mostly tarpaper at that point) and landed on the stove where her mother was cooking supper. Dad said that everyone was scared to death except Angie, and that his mother really lit into his father for having her up there.

My father remembered another time when Angie was gored while leading a goat which was pulling a cultivator in the garden. Another time she fell from the tongue of a trailer breaking her pelvis. Dad described his sister as “tough as a pine knot.”

Climbing My Family Tree: Angie Henn, her father Owen Carl Henn, and her brothers
Angie Henn, her father Owen Carl Henn, and her brothers,
gifted me by Angela's cousin M.S. (used with permission).
Click to make bigger.

In 1944, when Angie was 10 years old, her father was drafted into the Army, leaving her mom at home alone with four children, one an infant. She and the other kids wrote him every day while he was away and prayed for him each night. He wrote back to each one every day. Due to medical issues, he was discharged from the Army seven months and 22 days after he entered. 

In high school, Angie maintained good grades, studying at home by kerosene lamp. She was also very active in extracurricular activities, including Future Homemakers of America, Y teams, Try-Hi-Y ( "an organization associated with the YMCA which meant to create, maintain and extend throughout the home, school and community, high standards of moral character through improvement, sisterhood, equality, and service in High Schools"), the Girls Athletic Association, Basketball, Glee Club, school librarian, and Future Teachers of America.

Climbing My Family Tree: Angela Joy Henn, 1952 Jefferson High School Yearbook, Sr. picture
Angela Joy Henn, 1952 Jefferson High School Yearbook, Sr. picture.
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After high school, she worked for a year  as a clerk for Otterbein Press typing letters then went to Manchester College in Manchester Indiana where she majored in psychology. She married a man she met in college on April 5, 1957, in Wabash County, Indiana and they both graduated from college a couple of months later. (This is a good place to note that, in my blog,  I do not name, or otherwise give identifying details about, people who are still living.) She and her then-husband moved to Delphi Indiana where he became a teacher in the local schools and the superintendent of the local Brethren church school. Their three children were born in the next seven years. The marriage was not an easy one.

Angela Henn Bollinger, her daughter and eldest son, approximately 1961
Angela Henn Bollinger, her daughter, and eldest son, approximately 1961.
photo gifted me by Angie's cousin, M.S. (used with permission).
Click to make bigger.

In 1977, when Angela’s mother died, the family lived in Wakarusa Indiana. In 1979, tragedy struck and Angela’s oldest child, Melody Ann Bollinger died on June 12, 1979. The marriage ended in divorce shortly after that.

I don’t know much about the middle of my Aunt Angie’s life. I wish I’d been able to ask her more. (She liked to tell me about her parents and grandparents and bits of stories of other ancestors, but she never really said much about herself, or at least not about the middle years, and I, unfortunately, was too young to pay much attention to anything outside my own family at that time.) Most of what I know of this period, I know from family stories and/or listening in at Christmas gatherings over the years. I know that she helped support an immigrant family in Indiana, in the beginning as part of a mission of her church. She loved and supported  her younger two children who were just entering their 20’s and going to college and starting their own lives.  She was a strong advocate for children with Asperger’s and autism. I know that at various points that she worked as a real estate broker and owned in rental properties in Ohio and Tennessee, and that she worked as a school counselor and/or school psychologist for schools in Ohio and Tennessee. I know that, when in her forties, Angela decided to go back to school and obtain a graduate degree in school psychology. She moved to Tennessee then and took classes at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville while working for the Tennessee School for the Deaf. She *qualified for a Master degree in psychology and received a higher degree as an Educational Specialist, in 1984. She later regretted not taking the Master's degree because the Columbus school system gave a monthly bonus to employees with a Master's Degree, but no bonus for an Educational Specialist. 

Unfortunately, 1984 was not only a year of achievement for her; it also dealt her a serious blow when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the course of her fight against the disease, she had a *mono-lateral mastectomy of her left breast, chemo, and radiation. Eventually, she went into remission and we all believed she had beat it.

After leaving Tennessee, Angie moved to Ada Ohio to work as a school psychologist in the local schools. Per the city directory, she was there by 1986.  Angela met Dan Ver Ploeg through their shared passion for square dancing (a passion they shared for the rest of their lives). He was a chemist for an Ohio state agency. They fell in love. She moved to Columbus Ohio in 1987, where worked as a school psychologist in the Columbus, Ohio, city schools in 1987,  Angie’s favorite number was eight and on August 8, 1988 (8/8/88), they married. In 1999, Angie and her husband, both 69, retired in Ohio; but Angie wasn’t ready to quit and they began looking for their next adventure. After much discussion, they decided to move to Alaska. Angie obtained work with the South East Regional Resource Center which hired itinerant school psychologists to serve the more remote areas of Alaska. She was based out of Anchorage and served 40 schools in seven school districts. The schools ranged in size from 10 students to 500 students and she flew into those towns because many of them were not reachable by road: including the Alaskan Peninsula, the Yukon Flats, Bethel, Chevak, Hooper Bay, Beaver, Aleutians East, Arctic Village, Sand Point Island, Cold Bay, King Cove, Dillingham, and Tenana. She also continued to work as an advocate for children with Asperger’s, travel with her husband, and to square dance (they also gave square dancing demonstrations and helped teach beginners).

Map of Alaska
Copyright to Brad Cole at
Click to Make Bigger

Angie and her husband lived in Alaska -- he sometimes accompanying her on her trips to the schools with which she worked -- for 15 years, mostly in the first few years. In 2008, she cut her hours down to a one-third position due to some health concerns that adversely impacted her energy levels. In 2009, her doctors discovered that the cancer she had had in 1984 had never completely gone away and was back, at stage IV, as metastatic breast cancer (or, not in the breast this time, but scattered throughout her body, mainly in her lung, bones, and spine). She immediately began treatment and began to feel better than she had in the last year, despite the side effects of the treatments. Her square dancing stamina greatly improved and she continued to live with stage IV cancer, getting treatment every four weeks for a year and she felt better enough in a year to increase to a half-time position, serving five school districts in western Alaska for the 2009-2010 school year. In 2011, she discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver. Angie tried a new monthly chemo treatment which held her stable for another two years and she continued to serve the children in the remote school districts of Alaska. However, in 2014, the cancer progressed further and, at age 80, Angie and her husband decided to retire to Tennessee, where she had family, in 2015.

It was her turn to host the Henn family Christmas in 2015. She and her siblings (and, while alive, their parents) had met at Christmas-time (on a weekend before or after December 25), alternately sharing the hosting duties, every year since leaving the family home.  Initially, they brought their families with all the young cousins, and we all sang all the Christmas carols in two books, ate a delicious meal, exchanged gifts and talked for hours. As the cousins started moving into their own lives, the original siblings and their spouses continued to meet for the Henn Christmas every year, the now adult children (cousins) coming as they could.  Angie had never missed a Christmas. She and all of her siblings were all together for every Christmas of their lives (except one year when my father was in the Army during the Korean War). Angie died the Friday before Christmas, December 18, 2015, with her family beside her (the day after her 81st birthday). She was buried on December 22, 2015, near her daughter in New Paris Cemetery in New Paris, Elkhart County, Indiana. Rest in peace, Aunt Angie.

Climbing My Family Tee: Aunt Angie
Aunt Angie

[*Edited, 1/5/16, to add corrections supplied by Angie's husband, Dan Ver Ploeg, who also gave me permission to use his name, and some new facts found pursuant to the clues given in his corrections and my other Aunt's memories spurred by Dan's comments. I'm happy to have the corrections. If anyone wishes to share information about Angie, please contact me.]

Interviews of my father over a decade, compiled into a small book in or about 2008, pp. 5-6, 14; Email interviews of my aunts, uncle and Dad; Jefferson High School Yearbook 1952, U.S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012,, Provo, UT, USA; "Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007," database with images,FamilySearch (,  ____ Bollinger and Angela Joy Henn, 05 Apr 1957, citing , Wabash, Indiana, county clerk offices, Indiana, FHL microfilm 2,240,269; Obituaries of Anna Mae Bennett Henn, from The Brown City Banner, Sanilac County Press, North Branch News, Thursday, September 15, 1977 & from The Dayton Daily News (Ohio), Thursday, September 8, 1977; City directories for Ada, Columbus, and Dayton, Ohio; Obituary of Angela Ver Ploeg, The Elkhart Truth;; Angela Ver Ploeg (1934-2015);; Bollinger-Ver Ploeg Wedding, Oskaloosa (Iowa) Herald, p.3;;; “Journal of My Alaska Adventure” by Angela Ver Ploeg, 17 pp, emailed to me 3/5/09; cancer update emails from Angela Ver Ploeg to me (among others) dated 3 September 2008, 18 May 2009, 9 September 2011; 13 February 2014, and 19 November 2014.