Henry “Hank” Woessner

Dec. 6, 1931 – Feb. 16, 2023

On the evening of Thursday, the 16th of February, Henry “Hank” Woessner died peacefully at home in the presence of his loving wife Susan (nee Snider).

Hank, who was the son of Henry and Agnes (nee Fisher) Woessner, was born in New York City on Dec. 6, 1931.

Hank was predeceased in death by both parents and his younger brother Bill, who died in 2019.

Henry is survived by Susan, his wife of 36 years, his niece Lisa Shields of Vista, Calif., and her sons Joey and Nick, his nephew Billy (Nancy) Woessner of Grafton, Wis., and his grandniece Corbin Woessner.

For those who knew Hank and were never sure ... once, when asked what he did for a living, Hank’s mother-in-law Edna, who had a very dry sense of humor, said he was a professor at UWM ... but she really thought he worked for the CIA as a spy.  She just wasn’t sure for which side! Hank appreciated a quick wit and often repeated this story. His calling card read “Have Ideas – Will Travel.”

As a U.S. Navy enlistee during the Korean War, Hank served two years aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Bennington (CVA-20), where he was assigned to the special weapons unit, handling atomic weapons.  Unfortunately, Hank spent most of that time seasick on the deck of the carrier, however his penchant for travel and shenanigans was fueled by the experience.

Following his stint in the Navy (1955 to 1957), and despite not able to speak a word of French, Hank was hired by the U.S. State Department to lead French speaking African Nationals through the deep-South during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Hank and his brother both participated in the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial March led by Mrs. King and dozens of national figures through downtown Memphis in tribute to Dr. King on April 8, 1968.   

Hank was a lifelong student of the game of baseball and modeled himself after Moe Berg (“The Catcher Was a Spy”), originally of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Hank played ball at the collegiate level, and during summer college breaks played semi-professional baseball. Hank also played baseball while in the Navy and reached his pinnacle when he played for a brief stint with the Jersey City Little Giants, a minor league affiliate of the New York Giants.

Hank earned his bachelor of science degree from the State Teachers College at New Paltz, his master of science degree from the State Teachers College at Albany and his Ph.D. from Union Institute and University in Ohio.

While working towards his doctorate degree at Syracuse University, Hank was named to the faculty at the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. During his interview, Hank was asked what he aspired to be, to which he responded “An intellectual bastard.”  Hank was told to report directly to the third floor, as it just so happened “they already had one of those in residence.”

In 1968, Henry accepted a position in the Cultural Foundations Department in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where upon retirement in 1990 he was granted the title professor emeritus.

During the era of détente diplomacy (1969 to 1979) between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Hank participated in cultural exchange programs in the Soviet Union.  Thereafter, Hank took part in similar programs in Guyana prior to the Jamestown Massacre; in Cairo, Egypt, prior to the Sadat assassination; and at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Hank was present in 1981 during the military coup in Poland and successfully smuggled the first BBC videotaped footage, which showed tanks entering Krakow, out of the country.

While travelling to Egypt, Hank met Susan, his future bride, who worked for Trans World Airlines (TWA) in New York.  Fortunately, Susan’s job enabled them to travel extensively ... that was before “big dogs” entered their life.

In retirement, Susan and Hank dedicated themselves to their “big dogs.” What innocently began with one Bernese mountain dog soon became a pack of four big dogs!  For the past 30 years, two Bernese mountain dogs and two Newfoundlands have always graced the Woessner home, making for a happy and loving family of six!

Hank frequently expressed the joy the dogs brought to his life. Tails wag and you feel a silent smile. They tell us that we’re the only reason for their existence. They make you laugh when you’re angry. Through dogs, inner peace and comfort is achieved.  During Hank’s life with dogs, there wasn’t a day went by without some “lap time.”

It was in retirement that Hank and Susan built their new home in Port Washington, where they soon formed a deep and long-lasting friendship with the Keller family. Mike was instrumental in convincing Hank to participate in a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight in 2018 and accompanied Hank on a most memorable and meaningful day trip to Washington, D.C.

Hank regularly enjoyed the many lively and varied discussions with Mike, which Hank referred to as their “driveway chats.”  Mike visited with Hank everyday while he was in home hospice care. While reminiscing about their friendship, Mike recalled that Hank’s character and values ran deep, as did his ability to act in accord with those values throughout his life.

Hank’s values, no doubt, were based upon the ancient Greek Athenian Oath that he first familiarized me with. The Athenians, as did Hank, placed great value upon education and philosophy. And like the Athenians, Hank strongly believed that the only way to build a strong democracy is to create a well-informed citizenry. Hank strove to instill those same values expressed in the ancient oath below, and as inscribed in the foyer of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, in all those he knew.

The Athenian Oath

We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; we will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; we will revere and obey the city’s laws; we will transmit this city not only, not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

Recently, a longtime, cherished friend and former student of Hank’s, Woody Rothe, wrote the following to Susan upon learning of Hank’s passing. “Hank was trained in the ideas of the great thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. He was all about ideas, the wilder the better; but you had better back them up with reason. He was also a born rebel, a troublemaker from Yonkers, N.Y.” He reminisced that Hank loved the following declaration, made by the White Queen to Alice, in “Alice in Wonderland.”  “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The former student continued, “Hank fought for openness, intellectual honesty, and as those rare, but truly great teachers are able to do, helped me to accomplish things I didn’t think I could do.  He made me want to learn, to use my mind. I was fresh out of military service in 1965, a college freshman with a case of the jitters. Both of us had served on aircraft carriers, but during different wars, and for the next 58 years we traded stories, rooted for our baseball teams together and generally ripped into anyone who abused power.”

Indeed, Henry “Hank” Woessner succeeded in life! His legacy will live on, leaving those who knew him, and this world, a far better place than he found it!”

With special thanks to Mike, Lize and Emily Keller for their constant and continued friendship and support.

The Cherokee language has no word for “goodbye.” Instead, the Cherokee word is “donadagohvi,” which means, “’Til we meet again.”



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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