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Henry A. Cleary, 76, of Wadsworth, Ohio passed away peacefully on September 8th, 2023, leaving behind his loving wife Susan Cleary (née Crites), daughter Amanda (Mike) DeVaughn and step grandchildren Megan DeVaughn and Melanie (David) Garnes, son Andrew (Ruth) Cleary, grandbabies Brooklyn and June, and in-laws Patty and Brian Smead, Melanie Smead, Shelly and Shaun Debnath and their daughters Mira, Ella, and Ava. They, along with his friends and his constant companion, an orange tabby cat named Buddy, miss him dearly.
Henry’s earliest chapter of life began on June 14th, 1947 in his family’s humble one-room home, perched atop the verdant mountains of remote mining town War, West Virginia. He was one of 9 children born to Clifford and Helen Cleary (née Fletcher) and his boyhood was spent, alongside his siblings, exploring and adventuring the hills and hollers high above the deep underground coal mines, where his father labored long hours to provide for his family. The trees, creeks, and crags were his playground and it was there his lifelong love of his home state and deep appreciation for the great outdoors was born.
Perhaps one of Henry’s most remarkable personality traits to those who knew and loved him best was his iron will. (He could be more headstrong than a pack of mules). His tenacity was impressive, if not bewildering at times, to behold. If he believed in something or someone, he did so wholeheartedly. If he was mad, he was unbudgeable. If he did not want to be somewhere, he could not be made to stay. But this strength of character was forged under the immense pressure of a childhood full of hardship, including the unexpected passing of his father when he was just 10 years old and the resulting displacement and dispersal of all of his siblings. With life around him in a state of upheaval and uncertainty, determination to survive and thrive became the backbone of his character. In his own words, “you can’t keep a hillbilly down.” He endured these difficult times with the help of his cousins, The Hall family, who folded him into their home and family. Over the years, he reconnected and stayed in touch with his siblings, who were spread out across the country, especially his older brother Eugene and younger brother Cliff who remained a close part of his life.
As a young man, a road trip with his cousin Harry to visit family led him to the place he’d call home for the rest of his life: Wadsworth, Ohio. Henry adjusted quickly to life in the “big city” and set about making quite the name for himself in town, as veteran patrons of the old Rainbow and some of the Wadsworth PD can attest. And though he played hard, he worked even harder, gaining employment as a millwright at Babcock and Wilcox, where he would eventually retire after 30 years.
If there was one thing Henry Cleary was more than headstrong, it was sweet on his wife of 43 years, Susan. From the start, her friendliness and warm smiles brought out his soft, fuzzy side. Grizzly turned teddy with just one smile or look from her. It wasn’t long before Susan, herself, was reeled in by his two other hallmark traits: his playful sense of humor and devoted sweetness. The two of them started building a life together and they soon welcomed their daughter Amanda who had her daddy’s blue eyes and their son Andrew, who had his iron will.
Henry had a rich variety of interests, skills, and endlessly unique sayings and found great enjoyment in sharing them with his children and his grandchildren. He was an avid hunter and an expert bowsman, able to split his own arrows in half. He spent many weekends hunting deer in the hills of West Virginia, where he was quick to introduce his children to the wild, wonderful beauty of the mountains. He loved to fish and always brought along his rooster tail lure, ready to catch a “biggun.” He was also a huge fan of sports. He loved golfing and bowling, but above all else: he loved West Virginia Mountaineers football. He took his kids on countless road trips, from West Virginia to Florida, Texas to Mexico, always stopping to see the sights and subjecting everyone to the original crooners of country music along the way: Hank Williams, Gene Autry, and his favorite- Mo Bandy, to whom he bore a striking resemblance. He loved card games and always had a deck on hand to pull out and play with his grandbabies.
While Susan brought out his soft, fuzzy side, his grandbabies took it to a new level: they brought out his Santa Claus. Not many people who knew Henry would have believed that he could be coerced into dressing up in red velvet slacks, a fake beard, and a floppy hat, but when the regularly scheduled Santa couldn’t show up one year to Christmas Eve, it took just one look at his grandbaby Brooklyn’s little face that looked so much like his own, and June’s shining eyes that looked so much like Susan’s, for Henry to don the jolly man’s suit himself and show up with a sack of presents to spread Christmas joy to all. Make no mistake, though: his comfort zone had been breached! Never has a Santa been more swift at handing out presents and running for the hills as fast as possible with a “welp, see ya later!”
Through acts of service and devotion to his family, he taught his children that love is a verb. Love is defying the odds after a childhood of instability and working hard every day to provide a secure home and stability for his own kids. Love is teaching them how to have fun, and get into a little bit of trouble, so they could then learn how to get back out. Love was anticipating Susan’s needs with respect and tenderness, so they would both understand how a woman should be treated. And perhaps most importantly, love was simply saying it, out loud, especially during those times they needed to hear it the most: “I’ve loved you your whole life.”
Henry was the last remaining member of his family of 8 brothers and sisters. They now welcome him into his next chapter, along with his parents, his father-in-law Garlin Crites, his nephew Scott Ferguson, and those other dear family members and friends who’ve gone before him. If he could send a postcard from his new home to those he loves here, it would say just one thing: “If you’re down by the lake, drop in.”
The family will receive friends for visitation on Friday, September 15, 2023 from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. at Cox-McNulty Funeral Home, 1376 High St., Wadsworth, Ohio.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to American Legion Auxiliary Post 170.