Getting Personal: Mary Henson

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, News-Gazette features editor Tony Mancuso chats with Mary Henson, the wife of University of Illinois coaching legend Lou Henson. Getting Personal appears first in print., in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. In the Jan. 29 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Jake Schumacher, manager for Urbana Public Television and a musician.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

It depends on my schedule for the day. If I have a hair appointment, I've been known to leave our house at 6:30 (that's only when I'm desperate). I normally try to sleep until 7:30 or 8 because I am definitely a night person. When I arise, Lou has been up for three or four hours. During that time, he has grocery shopped, played nine holes of golf (weather permitting) or gone swimming, and made several early morning phone calls to our daughters, who are also early risers (mostly because their dad calls them early). At times, it can be an hour before I have my first cup of coffee because Lou's in the middle of something extremely pressing that requires my full attention in finding phone numbers or searching my files for some important tidbit of information. To be completely fair, he's the one who shopped and made my coffee.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

I ate at home and had leftover barbecued beef and turkey, potato salad, and finished off the guacamole dip and chips with Lou and our wonderful son-in-law, Fred Heinrich.

Best high school memory?

I guess my best high school memory is when I was selected homecoming queen during my senior year at Lanark.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

Any shoes that feel comfortable are my favorites, although I, along with every other woman I know, occasionally abuse my feet for the sake of 'style' to complete an outfit. My poor feet have gained revenge in a myriad of ways.

 What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include? 

The perfect Sunday afternoon for me includes a comfortable lounge chair, background instrumental music and reading a couple of good newspapers from cover to cover. An occasional catnap is allowed. While growing up on a farm, we kids looked forward to picking up the Sunday Chicago Tribune so we could devour the comic strips. My parents didn't allow us to buy comic books ... probably couldn't afford them. You may not guess this, but my taste for reading actually did expand with age, although I still finish the newspaper with the comics. We all need daily humor in our lives, and Loren Tate's column just doesn't provide quite enough.

 Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read? 

I've always been a reader from early on. As a very young child, I loved Grimm's Fairy Tales, Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, and all of the usual childhood nursery rhymes or poems. I grew to love Nancy Drew mysteries and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn adventures. In high school, I graduated to a bit racier reading with 'The Catcher in the Rye.' A friend secretly loaned it to me, and we kept it hidden where only the naivete of youth would dictate — under the mattress!

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

Although Lou and I have traveled with our teams to many places foreign and domestic, we really didn't get to tour the areas much because we had to tend to 'business' most of the time. I'd like to take a cruise from Nova Scotia all the way down along the East Coast. ... Oh, wait, did I say 'cruise'? Perhaps not!

Tell me about your favorite pet.

We acquired our wonderful white minipoodle as a tiny puppy from friends in Las Cruces, N.M., back in 1974. Lou Jr. named her Angie after a popular song of the day. She moved with us to Champaign in 1975 and lived to be 16 years old. Angie brought absolute joy to all of our lives. She was a sweet, docile, lovable creature; however, she did have one little quirk about her. She found a good-sized smooth rock in our backyard and learned to 'hike' it between her back legs just like a center would hike a football. She'd growl at it while moving it about, soon hike it and repeat that process until I guess she vented all her frustrations. After a particularly painful basketball game loss, Lou tried it once but quit doing it after he chipped a tooth.

Have you discovered as you matured that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

Not really. My parents were polar opposites. (Isn't that redundant? Still, I've always heard that expression.) I'm sure that my sweet Lou would agree that I got the very best qualities from each of them. Right, honey?

What would you order for your last meal?

If I were having my last meal at a five-star restaurant, I'd order hot crab dip supreme for an appetizer along with a cup of oyster stew. Lobster terrine with cauce verte would be an excellent salad, followed by an entree of shrimp-stuffed fillet of flounder, accompanied by champagne mushrooms and celery almondine. Dessert would consist of bananas foster, plus just a tad of Grand Marnier chocolate cousse. After this meal, I'd turn into some type of whale, and they could have a burial at sea. If my last meal was at McDonald's, I'd have to go with that low-cal fish sandwich.

What can you not live without?

I probably can't live without my inhaler, but I don't want to test that theory.

Who do you have on your iPod?

I don't have an iPod. I can just barely send and receive email! When I'm home alone, I listen to the old favorites in pop music, and when we're both home, we listen to country classics mixed with contemporary country. We enjoy the other's types of music, such as light rock, a little jazz, show tunes and gospel music occasionally. I might add that sporting events on TV always take precedence over music in our household for some odd reason.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I have way too many happy memories in my lifetime to choose one event over the other. Our marriage, the births of all four children, the grandchildren and great-grandchild, family weddings and just being with family and friends are all treasured happy moments.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

I'd like to ask to dinner three servicemen who are currently in the rehabilitation process so that we can personally thank them for sacrificing themselves to keep this great country free. We may do just that.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

To look before you leap. That was just before I married Lou.

What's your best piece of advice?

To look before you leap.

What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?

My first job was as a carhop for a drive-in root beer stand in my little hometown of Lanark. I was probably paid 50 cents an hour. I got enormous tips, though — probably a dime per customer.

What was a pivotal decision in your career, and how did you arrive at that decision?

Although I worked outside the home at various jobs during our early marriage years, we decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom when our children began arriving. It was a joint decision and one that we have never regretted. It wasn't easy living on one income even back then, but we believe we made the correct decision. I wish it were possible in this day and age for more working moms to stay home with their babies, but in many cases, it's just not an option. Tuna casseroles are really pretty healthy.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

Where do I start? This column isn't allotted enough space.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Stress? What's that? How would I recognize it?

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