Tribute to Jay |

Tribute to Jay

He almost made it. Jay Hendrickson would have been 100 on Valentine’s Day 2021. Alas, he just gave out and died on Nov. 22, 2020. We met through activities about the Civilian Conservation Corps. Here’s the backstory.

As I was writing a vintage photo history book about Fall River County, I contacted Roy Bledsoe, a neighbor, who had grown up in Oral, S.D., thinking he might have some old photos to share. When I visited at his home, he showed me several photos of when he was in the CCC at Wind Cave National Park, 10 miles north of Hot Springs, S.D. Those photos were the start — in fact one of them is the cover — of another vintage photo history on the CCCs. The book debuted at the Journey Museum in Rapid City and the Rapid City Journal provided a cake. The occasion turned into a CCC reunion. A mailing list of CCC alumni was an off-shoot of the day.

CCC alumni had gathered annually for years but had quit. Using the mailing list, I revived the tradition of getting together, but with a twist. I reserved a restaurant room then mailed out postcards inviting folks to a no-host lunch, no RSVP necessary. We had a great response and we did it three times per year, all the while gathering more names and interest. Jay was one of the star supporters, just as he had been the chief organizer for the annual reunions.

As memories of the CCC progressed, CCC men, families and other individuals started sending photos and other memorabilia to me. I had no idea a museum would come of the collection. Before long the CCC group started talking about creating one.

Jay mentioned a former Forest Service building east of Hill City that was going to be sold. It took time, patience and Jay’s determination but the Forest Service and the city finally reached an agreement, and after several more months, the CCC Museum was told it could lease a room. Jay’s input was valuable due to his CCC work, his World War II service and the fact that he was recognized and respected by the people of Hill City, including the mayor and city administrator.

Jay helped build and set up the initial displays in the museum and was always the driving force. He had something special that rubbed off on others: optimism. He was active, both mentally and physically, until his legs got so tired; then he just slowed down. He was a nonagenarians which is the word for people who are between 90 and 99 years of age. All the ones I know are optimistic, even though they went through the Great Depression and were dirt poor. They say everyone was in the same boat so they didn’t even know they were destitute.

When another friend turned 100, he was asked the age-old question. “To what do you contribute your longevity? “He replied, “I don’t worry about things I can’t do anything about.”

That pretty well described Jay also, who was an inspiration and a blessing to all.


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