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Baby Black Bear by Chuck Wiser

The Final Me and My Uncle: Looking back at the life of William Hendrick

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Today April 28, would have been Hendrick’s 87th birthday

By Andrew Harris, pictured is Uncle Bill working his “Arco AMPM” store

The sad news wasn’t unexpected. Uncle Bill was 86, and his health struggles are now over, and so is a unique American life.   Uncle “Bill,” passed away November 23, 2022 at the Hart Comfort House in Wellsville.

Born in Rochester, NY, Bill Hendrick was born in 1936  and grew up in  Hornby NY until age 10. 

He traveled across the country with family while his father served in WWII, and learned the hard side of life.

One day he and his best friend in the world, his brother Jim, hungry and alone, were caught by the authorities in California. While in custody, he adamantly wanted to reunite with his father in New York, just home from World War II. California sent Bill and Jim back to New York where here was born, to his family farm in Hornby to be reunited.

Hendrick’s life took a dramatic turn from that near-orphanage experience.  His family lived on an idyllic rural homestead and now Bill had grandmother, cousins, and aunts and uncles who all committed to raising he and his brother.  He worked on the farm, hunted and fished and explored with his brother and cousins, and made lasting relationships.  Bill was especially close to his cousins Paul and Dorothy.

Bill moved to Wellsville in 1948 with his father and enrolled in ICS.  While at ICS he received the help needed as an academically challenged kid due to a lack of education.  There, Mrs. Kit Dean spent extra time with Hendrick and helped him overcome that challenge. As he moved in to high school Hendrick continued to find teachers who took an interest in him and allowed him to become an academic standout, even called a “math wiz.”

His teenage years in Wellsville are very similar to an average high school boy today.  He played sports and worked at the local grocery store, Loblaw’s.  Wellsville had a minor league baseball team which provided regular excitement and sparked a lifelong love for the game. 

A tragedy struck in 1956. His best friend in the whole world, the other little boy nabbed at the fruit stand in California, his little brother Jim was killed in an automobile crash.  Bill was twenty years old and the sudden loss was devastating, haunting him for the rest of his life. 

The military was the next life-changing move for Hendrick, at the height of the Korean War.  Hendrick enlisted with three of his buddies, Terry Munro, Bill Johnston, and Bill Piscitelli. into the Army and was deployed to the Korean peninsula.  The battle never came for Bill and his pals because they arrived after a cease-fire had been reached. Working as a pole lineman from 1957-59 to help rebuild South Korea and was a point of pride for Hendrick.

The entire process of being plucked from small town life, sent to boot camp, and deployed to a war zone was a landmark in Bill’s life.  He loved to talk about his time in the Army, traveling, and always made it clear how lucky he was to have avoided any combat zones. 

When his service ended, Uncle Bill came back to Wellsville and resumed a fairly normal life.  He worked at Loblaw’s Grocery as the produce manager, and then “Worthington,” which turned into “Turbodyne,” and “Dresser-Rand.”  The turbine business was booming and provided a steady paycheck for many young men in the area.   He ended his career there as a payroll manager.

Many of Bill’s lifelong friendships were developed during that period of his life, most notably his close relationship with Dennis Weimer.  “Denny” would go on to be the President/CEO of the business and Bill often noted that other than his late-brother, Denny was the only best-friend he ever had. 

It was also during that time in Hendrick’s life that volunteer fire fighting was a commitment. He joined the Emerald’s before going into the Army.  A lifelong member of the Emerald Hook and Ladder Company, Bill was very active, responding to hundreds of emergencies.  Below you can read his accounting of the most memorable event of his time as a first-responder, the Flood of 1972.

Colligan and Hennessy

As an Emerald, Hendrick was known for being a leader, and mentor to the “up and coming” guys like Tim Colligan and Joe Hennessy.  Both men remember Bill as being older but he always liked working with, and teaching the next generation. 

“Bill was the best when we joined the department.  You could always depend on Bill to tell you the truth and he was always available, always accessible,” recalls Colligan.

Hennessy remembers two things about Hendrick and their time together as active-Emeralds:

“Hendrick was always reasonable.  Not a hot head or worried about being wrong.  He took the bull by the horns and got things done instead of sitting around talking about it.”

The fire company wasn’t the only work Colligan and Hennessy did with Uncle Bill.  Politics and business soon followed.

In 1978 Hendrick was elected to the village board, starting a twenty year career of public service.   That time in office produced some long-term results that we all still enjoy today in Wellsville. 

Reviewing some of the major accomplishments by the village government at the time, a few major projects stand out.  Tim Colligan served most of that 20 years with Hendrick on the board, being elected in 1984.  Colligan points out work done on the Lee Place water reservoir.

“This reservoir needed some major upgrades to maintain water quality and avoid structural failure.  Deer kept jumping into the thing and drowning!”

Hendrick, Mayor Robert Gardner, and the board prioritized the reservoir project and upgrading the water treatment infrastructure.  Wellsville has benefited from that overhaul ever since.

Colligan will also point out that Hendrick was instrumental in building the first “fuel farm” for the village.  This created a long-term savings for the village by buying fuel at wholesale prices instead of retail.  Like the Lee Place reservoir project, the benefits of this new asset have been realized for decades now.

While those projects are interesting and part of Hendrick’s public service record, history will remember uncle Bill for his part in protecting the public from industrial pollution.  The reality in Wellsville in 1978 looked like this:

Two federal “Superfund” sites, a designation given to the worst polluted places in America, were poisoning Wellsville’s drinking water.  The lesser-known disaster was the Duffy Hollow Road landfill, draining directly into Dyke’s creek which feeds into the Genesee River at Island Park.  This landfill was used for decades by the village, before any regulations about dumping hazardous materials existed.  Apparently the “dump” was leaching untold amounts of dangerous toxins into the aquafer.  That site was remediated by the village and federal government while Hendrick sat on the board. 

The notorious Sinclair Refinery site, also a federal Superfund site, sat just south of the village, spewing a constant diet of petrochemicals into the Genesee River.  It is safe to say that the water flowing under the West State Street bridge and past the Wellsville High School was a public hazard.  If that isn’t alarming enough, consider that the intake to the village water treatment plant was located in that same stretch of river. 

Hendrick and Mayor Gardner and other officials agreed that was unacceptable.  A plan was put in place to invest in a waterline which would move the intake location miles south, where the water wasn’t impacted by the Sinclair disaster.  That water intake station is located just to the south of the Wiedrich Road bridge, right along the WAG trail.  Today the village of Wellsville still owns and operates that waterline and that access to clean, fresh water.

While cleaning up the Sinclair site wouldn’t happen until after Hendrick’s career as a village trustee, moving that water line removed much of the impact on Wellsville.  The next time you are enjoying clean, safe drinking water in the village of Wellsville, give a toast to Bill !

When he retired from village government in 1998, uncle Bill gave a speech that was a typical farewell until the ending.  From the minutes of that meeting, his final admonition still rings just as true today:

“ He said one big disappointment of his is that in a village of 5000, less than 500 turn out to vote at the elections.  He said it appears people are more than willing to discuss and criticize village politics at the local diners rather than willing to actually come to the meetings and see what is really going on.  He said it is a disgrace for the Village Board to work so hard on running a village and have no one show for public hearings or meetings to give their input or show their support.”

Of all the things that made uncle Bill a fixture in Wellsville, it wasn’t firefighting or politics: it was business.  When Hendrick bought the little gas station on the corner of Main Street and East State Street from John Dean, he had big plans. Hendrick told Tim Colligan about his plan to upgrade the station to a “mini-mart,” and Colligan was very dubious about the new concept. 

Hendrick plowed ahead with his idea, and soon after Colligan was eating his words. 

“Arco AMPM” was the first 24 hour convenience store and gas station in Wellsville and it was a major success.  The store quickly became known as a morning coffee stop for locals like Roger Gee, the Lynch boys, and others.  On the way to work you stopped in, got a cup of coffee, got your coffee club card punched, and often small talk with Bill.  Teenagers out cruising would meet in the eventual Sunoco Aplus parking lot before the cellphones appeared. Kids on bikes, and after school flooded the place for the candy, the ”slushies,” or the “big gulp” fountain soda.  Aplus became a big part of life in Wellsville.

Owning and operating Aplus gave Hendrick the platform and means to give back to the community.  Most of that work was and remains private accomplishments, little things that made a difference in the village.  One perfect example happened after every election.  Being a politician himself, “leftover” campaign signs were a pet-peeve of Bill’s so he solved the problem with an easy solution:  He placed a bounty on the signs that the village kids couldn’t resist: Bring in a campaign sign and get a full-sized candy bar! Bill even kept the signs in storage, for both parties, until the next election.  Hendrick was truly a “bipartisan” kind of man.

If you were a kid in Wellsville, Hendrick loved to give awards and recognition.  Whether you were the athlete of the week or caught the “Bill Hendrick Fish” in the fishing derby, you received some of this generosity.

Along with the famous mini-mart, Hendrick also operated a snow plow business and was known for clearing driveways for free.  For those who needed help in Wellsville after a major snowstorm, it is likely that Hendrick extended his services.

NY Special Olympics was a focus for Hendrick throughout his business career.  He raised money through the store to help out local special Olympians and helped start a popular charity golf tournament dedicated to the cause at the Wellsville Country Club.

His career owning the “Mini-mart,” was where many people got to know uncle Bill.  He employed hundreds behind the counter over the years, became friends with customers, and started another business which still stands today: Annie’s Ice.  That business for was named after his wife and business partner Ann, who managed the mini-mart and ice business with Bill.

Re-enter Joe Hennessy who worked for Hendrick in the ice business when he wasn’t working for the town of Wellsville.  That business grew and started supplying other area retailers with weekly ice deliveries.  When Hendrick decided to sell Annie’s Ice, Hennessy made the purchase and took the business to a whole new level.  Hennessy has since sold the business to other local investors but the Annie’s Ice brand remains today.

Bill worked, even after retirement, where many knew him from behind the counter at Fassett Lane Lumber and Kubato dealership. 

Bill was a talented green thumb.  He grew a garden every year and loved having a dinner fresh from the garden with his wife.  Swiss chard, tomatoes, onions, green beans, beets, peppers, squash of all sorts.  Bill and Ann enjoyed preserving the garden bounty to a have winters supply of home-grown food in the pantry. He and his cousin Paul had a lifelong garden rivalry.  In his later years, his sister-in-law Jeanne Harris built raised garden boxes for his back porch.  Bill always shared more of this bounty than he ever ate.

He was an avid golfer and longtime member of Wellsville Country Club. He enjoyed his tournaments and even once had a hole in one. It happened on this beloved grandmother’s birthday, which was wonderful for Hendrick and he considered it more than just luck.

Hendrick was famous for his “mind like an elephant,” he could remember vivid details about his entire life and loved to reminisce.   He could stroll down Main Street Wellsville and give details about businesses and owners from then 1950’s.

Bill was a master woodworker and spent many hours in his man cave equipped with a full workshop.  A combination of office, workshop, and personal retreat.  He built furniture, lamps, magazine racks, and many functional household items.  Hendrick wasn’t just a maker; he was a repair guy too.  Uncle Bill could build it or fix it and loved giving custom-made gifts.

After winning “Store of the year in 1981,” Hendrick served on the national board of Sunoco gas station owners for 2 years, traveling all over the country.  Traveling all over the northeast, Hendrick worked as a mentor and consultant for all the new Sunoco Aplus stores popping up.  As pioneer in the business, Hendrick was sought after for his knowledge and elected to the Chairmanship of the board. .

I hope you have enjoyed reading about life in Wellsville NY through my uncle Bill’s lens.  His life was both extraordinary and typically American.  Our family’s hope is that he won’t be forgotten, but most importantly, he will be remembered for his focus on serving others and a love for Wellsville NY.

Read Uncle Bill’s full obituary:

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