Obituary: Tess Henry

Tess Henry 


Teacher, author, women’s history activist


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 on February 26, 1932 in Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, to a Scottish father and an American born mother who was the daughter of 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 Minnesota 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, Minnesota area where her Swedish ancestors had immigrated in the 1880s. After a less than a year in Minnesota, the family lived in Winnipeg, Canada, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where her father was the pastor at Presbyterian churches. She returned to Minnesota 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 master’s 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 then living.


There she met her future husband, Granville Conner Henry III, a naval officer based in Seattle. They were married in Seattle on 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, Georgia, where Mr. Henry 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 so Mr. Henry could attend the Claremont Graduate School, now Claremont Graduate University. She taught French at Scripps College for a year. Their son Conner was born in 1963.


In 1964, Mr. Henry 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 Minnesota and back, and until 1977 drove to Georgia or Florida to see Mr. Henry’s parents on their way to Minnesota.


In 1968, she began teaching French and social studies at Upland Junior High, where she remained for 23 years. During this time, she was active at the local, state and national levels in the movement to write women into history and to use gender neutral language. As a mentor teacher in the Upland schools, she focused on women’s history and gave workshops in Upland and at both state and national education conferences. 


She served on the state level commission that decides the content to be included in the history-social science framework, the document that determines what is required to be taught in the California public schools, in order to advocate for women to be adequately represented. After retiring at age 60, she taught part time at Hillside High, the alternative school in Upland.


The Henrys maintained a second home in Minnesota. They restored an old farmhouse where the family lived in the summer and then acquired the town’s historic railroad depot. Mr. Henry cut the Dassel Depot in half with a Skilsaw, with help from daughters Mary and Marion. It was moved to the farm, placed near the farmhouse, and turned into a home. They returned to the farm every year, spending significant parts of their retirement there.


During “retirement,” Ms. Henry was active in her grandchildren’s lives. She volunteered at her churches, particularly in their education programs, at Christ Church, Ontario, and then Our Lady of the Assumption in Claremont. She remained an active participant in the Catholic community at the McAlister Center of the Claremont Colleges until her death.


Until she was no longer physically able, there were always one or two people who could not leave their homes that she visited weekly. In 2000 she had a stroke that caused right side paralysis and with a lot of work and rehabilitation she recovered to continue to lead a physically active life.


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, Minnesota. 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.


Family dinners were a way of life. She was known for the many dinner parties she hosted throughout the year in both Claremont and Minnesota. Tess hosted “Monday Night Supper” in their Claremont home every week for more than 20 years for family living here and those visiting.


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


In October of 2018, she fell and became disabled. Up until then, she walked at least two miles daily. After the fall, she remained as active as she could, continuing to walk until two days before she died.


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.


Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, January 11 in Balch Auditorium, 1030 N. Columbia Ave., Claremont, on the Scripps College campus, with a reception to follow.


A burial service will be held in Minnesota in the summer at the First Swedish Independent Baptist Church of Collinwood. She will be buried in the Pioneer Cemetery there, 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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