CORBIN — Neighbors, June 26, 2010
By Erica Bowlin / Times-Tribune Staff
Claude Hensley is quite the local celebrity at Forest Bowling lanes in Corbin, where he and his wife are frequent visitors. While warming up, ball in hand, greetings come from all around.
“Good evening Mr. Hensley,” and “hey there Claude, how have you been?”
Hensley comes to the bowling alley not only to play a round or two, but to socialize and tell stories. Stories of a man who has lived his life with a sense of practicality and a smile.
Born in 1924 and raised in Gray, Claude Hensley remembers growing up during the Great Depression. When families worked together, each one playing a vital role in the survival of the family unit.
Hensley was one of 5 children born to Robert and Mary Hensley. He and his brother William and sisters Hazel, Ruth, and Shirley all did their part on the family farm.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to rent and later buy a farm near RECC. We all had our responsibilities that had to be done in order to keep everything running,” he said.
According to Hensley, times were simpler back then.
“We had one mule named John, and one horse, which made a team. And my dad began breaking ground with a plow. We got the ground ready and planted a garden. You had to be self-sufficient. There was no sitting around watching television and playing video games back then,” he said.
Claude’s father worked from daylight until dark on most days, and taught his children the value of hard work. He worked in the mines and as a farmer. In the Depression days, the mining business came to a screeching halt, as the factories weren’t running as they had before the economic struggles of the 1930’s.
“Dad was working mostly on the farm then. I started working on the farm when I was about six years old. Along with taking care of the chickens, it was my job to make sure the pigs were fed. I gathered the scraps each day and fed them. At times, those things got to over 250 pounds, and that was our meat for the winter,” said Hensley.
Growing up on the farm, Hensley and his siblings worked hard. Their parents taught the children how to work and be responsible.
When Hensley graduated from high school, the United States was at war.
“I had heard stories about what the Japanese were planning to do to our country, and I wanted to protect my home and loved ones. So I tried to enlist in the Army. At first they didn’t take me, because I couldn’t see well at all from my right eye. But later, they drafted me, bad eye and all,” said Hensley.
Between graduation and the time Hensley joined the Army, he was running the farm while his father was away working.
While in the Army, Hensley worked as a topographical engineer. He was stationed in the Philippines, and Japan, among other locations overseas.
While on leave, Hensley met and married his first wife, Isabella, in Akron, Ohio.
“We met at a train station. She was waiting at the station for her brother, who was in the service and was coming in from San Diego. She was a cute chick, and I wasn’t to bad looking myself back then,” he said.
After three years in the Army, the war had ended, so Hensley returned to Akron. He worked in the daytime as a construction worker and at night in the Firestone Plant. But Hensley grew tired of the city and longed for his Kentucky Home.
“I was making pretty good money there, but I wanted to be where the sun shines, the birds sing, and the brooks trickle down the valley.”
So Hensley returned to Kentucky, and decided he wanted to go to college.
“I took the entrance exam and I passed, so I began to study vocational agriculture.
I was inspired by what I had learned on the farm from my father, and what I had learned from a vocational agriculture teacher I had in high school, Mr. Partin.”
While attending the University of Kentucky, Hensely also worked as a cab driver and newspaper deliverer at night.
“I had to make ends meet somehow, I had a wife and children to support,” he said.
Hensley received his Bachelor’s Degree in General Agriculture from the University of Kentucky and while in college, his first marriage ended and he remarried a young lady named Ella, who was a doctor in economics and worked at the school.
After receiving his degree, Hensley began working at UK as well, working in the Entomology and Botany department. He worked administering laws regarding agricultural issues. He worked with the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.
In 1983, Hensley retired, returned to his hometown of Gray, and moved onto the farm he had purchased in the 1960’s. The farm was in a rather special location.
“Ironically, some of the land was part of the one my grandfather had owned so many years before,” he said.
Hensley said there have been many good times in his life, but there have been some bad times as well. He lost his oldest son, Claude Hensley Jr. at the age of 16.
“He was driving, his younger brother David was in the car as well. They were hit by a drunk driver. Claude Jr. was killed instantly, and David died at the age of 20, of brain cancer. The brain cancer was a result of the injuries he received in the crash,” said Hensley.
After a lifetime of hard work and accomplishments, Hensley said his proudest achievement is his children.
“The two oldest boys that passed away were good boys, they worked hard and were responsible young men,” he said, and added “my other children, Linda, Gary Lee, Patsy, and Donald have all turned out to be good people. That is my greatest accomplishment, because I have worked hard to pass on the lessons and values that I learned growing up on to my children.”
Claude and his wife Ella will celebrate 27 years of marriage this year, and Claude will be turning 86 on July 23. His family and friends will celebrate at his home in Gray.
“I am thankful to the Lord for allowing me to live a long and happy life. I hope that my eight grandchildren and all the young people will hear my story and know that when you work hard, there will be rewards. You just have to trust in the Lord and go ahead and do the best you can.”