Judge Chip Henry Remembered with Tree on 10th Anniversary of Death
May 26, 2021 by Diane Ryder

On a beautiful evening May 23, 2011, Geauga County Probate Court Judge Charles (Chip) Henry decided to go on a bicycle ride along Rapids Road in Troy Township, near his home.

On a beautiful evening May 23, 2011, Geauga County Probate Court Judge Charles (Chip) Henry decided to go on a bicycle ride along Rapids Road in Troy Township, near his home.

A 42-year-old Troy woman, who had been drinking and taking medication, was driving her minivan along Rapids Road at the same time. She thought she had struck an animal and left the scene as Henry, 53, died along the side of the road.

The crash that took the life of the popular judge sent shockwaves throughout the county. The woman who killed him pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison in 2012 as the Henry family and court co-workers struggled to deal with the loss of the well-liked judge, husband, father of two, public servant and outdoor enthusiast.

Exactly 10 years after Henry’s tragic death, about 60 current and former court employees, judges who had worked with him from the time he served in the Geauga County Prosecutor’s and Public Defenders’ offices, Henry family members and friends gathered near a tall willow oak tree on the Chardon Courthouse lawn to share memories and honor Henry’s life.

“The oak tree symbolizes courage and power, strength of character and protection,” said Geauga County Common Pleas Court Administrator David Lubecky, who worked closely with Henry and was one of the organizers of the event.

Lubecky said the tree was placed between the courthouse building and the nearby annex, where Henry had served in both places as probate and juvenile court judge from 1993 until his death.

Lubecky explained Henry helped with the design details of moving his court from the third floor of the courthouse across the street to the annex in 2004.

“That courtroom was his pride and joy,” Lubecky said as he described the judge sometimes pitching in around the office to make coffee or run the vacuum cleaner.

“There was nothing beneath him. He was completely dedicated to the job,” Lubecky said.

He described the judge as someone who rarely missed work, even while suffering a serious rib injury. He once worked while he had the flu, quarantining himself in his office and insisting on no contact with anyone, to avoid spreading the bug.

“He was well known for his love of children and would hold the babies and play with the kids who were in the office,” Lubecky said.

Retired Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Forrest Burt recalled his friendship with Henry’s father, Gene, who introduced him to the “organized chaos” of their large and close family.

Burt recalled Henry meeting the love of his life, his wife, Linda, while serving in Africa in the Peace Corps and his early days working with Burt in the prosecutor’s office, as well as his service in the Ohio State Senate before becoming one of the county’s three judges.

“He served with judges (H.F.) Inderlied and (Dave) Fuhry, which was the most cohesive group of judges Geauga County has seen in a long time,” Burt said. “His actions and decisions were always in the best interest of the people of Geauga County, never in his own best interest.”

He described Henry as “helpful, intelligent, knowledgeable and a little bit quirky.”

“This is an extra sad day for us,” Henry’s son, Adam, said on behalf of the Henry family. “All of you in the court are part of our family. His code of ethics made Geauga County a place to be proud of. Thank you for being part of our family today. It means the world to me to keep his memory in our hearts and I think he is very proud of his family.”

Others spoke of Henry’s love for the outdoors, describing an incident in which the judge risked his life to save a baby duck caught in a drain. Others described his insistence on cleanliness in his office.

“Judge Henry left the legacy for other judges to follow,” said former employee Michele Schroeder, herself the wife of a judge in another county.

“The role of a judge is to resolve conflict, not create it,” Schroeder said, to thunderous applause.

Henry was also known for his thriftiness. Former employee Kimberly Berry recalled when he became a judge in 1993, he wore an old choir robe in the courtroom instead of purchasing a judge’s robe.

“So we bought him a robe and had it monogrammed,” she said. “We were all very lucky to have had him.”

Geauga County Public Defender Bob Umholtz drew laughs when he said Henry taught him lessons in frugality while working together many years ago.

“He said if we bought a big sack of potatoes, we could put some butter and salt on them, cook them in the microwave and be able to have lunch for a month for 37 and a half cents a day,” Umholtz recalled, adding once the two travelled to Columbus for a state conference.

“The hotel rooms for the conference were $125 a day, so Chip found a Red Roof Inn, where we could get a room with two double beds for $39 a night,” Umholtz said. “And (former Geauga County Auditor) Tracy Jemison couldn’t believe it when we submitted a meal bill for $18. Chip said we could eat just as well at Taco Bell.”

At the end of the shared memories, Lubecky said the tree and memorial plaque were paid for with donations from court workers, public officials, friends and family. The donated money left over — about $1,200 — will be given to a charity of the Henry family’s choice.

Henry’s widow announced that, in keeping with the judge’s love of the outdoors, the money would be donated to the Foundation for Geauga Parks to be used to form the Chip Henry Institute for Outdoor Adventure.

The Henry family, including the judge’s mother, wife, children and grandchildren, unveiled the memorial plaque at the foot of the tree.