Obituary: John H. Henzel, 1923-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: John H. Henzel, 1923-2020

World War II veteran remembered for his distinguished service and love of music

Published October 8, 2020 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated October 29, 2020 at 3:14 p.m.

  • Courtesy Photo
  • John Henzel

John H. Henzel, age 96, died in Essex Junction, Vt., on September 19, 2020, surrounded by family. He was born on October 12, 1923, in Philadelphia, the son of Catherine Price Henzel and Howard Randolph Henzel. John married Leah Jane Thompson in 1947, and they began their life together in Ridley Park, Pa. John attended James Russell Lowell School in Olney and graduated from Northeast High School and the University of Pennsylvania with his undergraduate and master’s degrees in education.

John began his service in the United States Army during World War II in 1943. He trained at Fort Benning, Ga.; was deployed to Europe in November 1944; and served as forward artillery scout in Germany in the ACORN Division (87th) following the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded by mortar in March 1945. For his service, he was awarded the Battle Star, the Purple Heart and the European African Middle Western Campaign Medal. On August 21, the State of Vermont recognized his service by awarding him the Vermont Veterans Medal and the Vermont Distinguished Service Medal. He returned from Europe in 1945 to finish his education and marry Leah.

During the 1950s and '60s, he was director of music, playing organ and conducting choirs in Pennsylvania, including at Grace Lutheran Church in Norristown; St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia; Covenant Methodist Church in Springfield; and St. Asaph's Episcopal Church in Bala Cynwyd. He hosted a Thursday afternoon radio program on WFLN about music in the school district of Philadelphia and, from 1958 to 1960, served as dean of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Guild of Organists. He taught vocal music from 1956 to 1968 at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia, and from 1968 to 1970 at Nether Providence High School in Wallingford.

In 1970, John and Leah moved to Vermont and operated Stowe-Away Lodge as a country inn. He was primary cook and post-dinner concert pianist until 1977, when he returned to music leadership at various churches and schools. During the next 40 years, John inspired singers and parishioners at Stowe Community Church; Trinity Episcopal Church and All Souls Interfaith Gathering, both in Shelburne; and First Congregational Church and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, both in Burlington.

During the same period, he conducted the Burlington Oratorio (now Choral) Society, broadening the repertoire to include major orchestral choral works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Handel’s Israel in Egypt and Benjamin Britten’s St. Nicholas. John taught, coached and accompanied many vocal music students and choirs at the University of Vermont and at Burlington High School for 24 years. He accompanied high school musicals, especially at Stowe High School and BHS. He played organ or keyboard for dozens of weddings, as well as school and UVM graduation services. His love for family and music, as well as his salutations of “Happy Days — All Good Things,” will be remembered by many.

He is survived by daughter Linda and son John Michael, both of Vt.; son Thomas of Philadelphia; brother Franklin of King of Prussia, Pa.; seven grandsons; seven great-grandchildren; four nephews; and two nieces. In addition, he is survived by his step-granddaughter and her husband, Emma and Micah Tompkins, of Dayton, Ohio; and his "adopted" family, Alison McWilliams and Justin Clark of New Hampshire and Mattie Clark of New York City. He was predeceased by his wife, Leah, of 68 years and sisters Rae Kolupaev and Mary Entrekin.

The family acknowledges the excellent care John received at Mansfield Place in Essex Junction and by Bayada Hospice. Interment was September 28 at Glenwood Memorial Gardens in Broomall, Pa. Please consider a donation in his memory to the music program of your choice for a school, church or chorus. A post-COVID-19 memorial is planned in Vermont.

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