Esther ‘Tess’ Henry, 87

Tess Henry died in the early morning hours of 2020, on New Year’s Day, at home with family. She was 87.

Esther Jen Turnbull was born to Ralph Turnbull and Anne Lundin Turnbull Feb. 26, 1932, in Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, to a Scottish father, and a mother born in the Dassel countryside to Swedish immigrants. As a young girl, she became Tess, and was known by that name the rest of her life.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, when she was seven, the family left England and moved to the Dassel countryside where her mother’s family lived. Before they left, the English school issued her a gas mask in anticipation of bombings. She was upset when they ran out of individual boxes that held the masks before they got to her, because it meant she did not receive a beautiful red box.

Although moving from urban England to rural Minnesota was difficult at first, she went on to develop a lifelong love of the Dassel area, where her Swedish ancestors had immigrated in the 1880s. After less than a year in Dassel, the family lived in Winnipeg, Canada, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, where her father was the pastor at Presbyterian churches. She returned to Dassel yearly for the rest of her life.

She graduated from Wooster College in Ohio in 1953 with French and history majors, and then completed a masters at the Sorbonne in Paris with a Fulbright grant. She then lived in New York City in Greenwich Village while working for New York University before moving to Seattle, where her parents were living.

There she met her future husband, Granville Conner Henry III, a naval officer based in Seattle. They were married in Seattle June 15, 1957, and lived in Atlanta for three years where he was in seminary and graduate school.

She taught French at the Westminster School, a private high school in Atlanta, during her first year there, before giving birth to their first child, Lydia. Two more daughters, Mary and Marion, were born in Georgia. After living in Atlanta, the family lived for a year in Hickory Flat, a small rural community in Cherokee County, GA, where Granville was a pastor at the Methodist Church and she was a homemaker.

In 1961, the family loaded everything they owned into a VW bus and a U-Haul trailer and drove across the country to Claremont, CA, so Granville could attend graduate school. Tess taught French at Scripps College in Claremont for a year. Their son Conner was born in 1963.

In 1964, Granville became a faculty member at Claremont McKenna College. She was a homemaker with four children until Conner began kindergarten. Every year the family would drive to Dassel and back, and until 1977, drove to Georgia or Florida to see Granville’s parents on their way to Minnesota.

She taught French and social studies at a local junior high school for 23 years. She was active at the local, state, and national levels to advocate for women to be adequately represented in history and to use gender neutral language.

The Henrys maintained homes in California and Dassel. They restored an old farmhouse where the family lived in the summer. They acquired the original Dassel depot, which was moved to the farm, and turned into a home. They returned to the farm every year, spending significant parts of their retirement there.

During retirement, Tess was active in her grandchildren’s lives and her church.

She wrote a book, The First Swedish Independent Baptist Church of Collinwood and Pioneer Cemetery, An Immigrant Memoir. It is a memoir and history of her family’s Swedish immigrant community south of Dassel. Her writing journey began when she wrote a pamphlet for the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis to accompany historical items from her extended family’s early immigrant experience, which are now a permanent exhibit of the American Swedish Institute.

“Her love and gentle strength bound her family together, and like the sun, shone brightly and touched friends, communities and strangers,” her family shared.

She is survived by her husband of 62 years, Granville; daughters, Lydia Henry, Mary Haney, Marion Matthews and husband Brian Marvin; son, Conner; grandchildren, Conner Haney, Henry Falotico, Katie Haney Arceo and husband Steven Arceo, and Jacob Henry; sister, Karin Woodson (John); brother, Stuart Turnbull (Sharon); and numerous nieces and nephews.

She was predeceased by her parents, and brother, Gael Turnbull.

A memorial service was held Jan. 11, 2020, in Claremont. Due to the current pandemic a previously planned service in Dassel was not possible. On May 31, a small, graveside service was held at the First Swedish Independent Baptist Church of Collinwood, where she was buried with six generations of her extended family.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Pioneer Cemetery Association and sent to P.O. Box 249, Cokato MN 55324, Attention: Bernelle Hansen.

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