You can't judge a book by its coverFormer Alexandria resident, Clyde Henry, overcomes a learning disability, writes a novel based in Alexandria.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
When Clyde Henry was a kid he was told he wouldn’t amount to much. He was told that college wasn’t a place for people like him. He was called dumb. He was called a retard.
Clyde Henry proved everyone wrong. It turns out he was brilliant. He could draw house plans and create models of buildings. He had a knack for theoretical mathematics. He was an artist.
But those talents were overlooked because of his problem with words. He couldn’t read them. He couldn’t spell them. He even had a hard time speaking them.
“I couldn’t at all catch on to the phonics,” he explained. “I wasn’t reading and I wasn’t spelling. When I tried to pronounce words I would say them wrong. Even today I have to kind of think ahead of time if I’m going to say something.”
So whatever happened to that misunderstood child who had a terrible stutter? What happened to that precocious little boy to whom words were the greatest mystery of life?
He wrote a book.
A room with no view
Now a resident of Ohio, Henry was born and raised in Alexandria. In 2nd grade he was sent to St. Mary’s Catholic School, which had opened that year. There he was placed in what was called the “special needs room.”
“It was sort of an interesting room,” he recalled. “I’m not sure to this day how the kids were determined to be there. It seemed like it was all the ‘rejects,’ – physical problems, kids who were heavy, those with learning difficulties.
“I assume I was there because I wasn’t reading and I wasn’t spelling,” he surmised.
Henry repeated 2nd grade and attended St. Mary’s through grade 6. It wasn’t the happiest time.
“I would say that I did not enjoy it at all,” Henry said with a laugh, recalling stories of life in the “room,” which gave him a dim view of the future.
In 6th grade he had a brief shining moment when he was put in a gifted math class.
“That was the one thing I looked so forward to,” he said.
But it was short-lived. Because he couldn’t complete his spelling, he was permanently barred from attending the math class. Ditto for his art and science classes, two other glimmers of hope.
“Everything I enjoyed doing, I couldn’t do because of my handicap,” he lamented. “They told me I couldn’t have art or science because I needed to work on my spelling.”
When Henry went to 7th grade at Central Junior High School, someone finally realized that he didn’t need punishment, he needed help. And he got a diagnosis.
A speech therapist put him through a battery of tests and discovered that he had an audio-perception issue.
“It was fantastic,” he said of finally having an explanation for his learning problem.
But his fragile young psyche had already been convinced he was no good and he had developed a lack of interest in school. His reputation as a “troublemaker” carried into junior and senior high school and his grades suffered.
During a session with a high school counselor he was told he shouldn’t bother thinking about college – that he should be a punch card operator.
But Henry didn’t listen. Before graduating from Jefferson High School in 1969, he took the ACT and scored high enough to get accepted into college.
Proving them wrong
A funny thing happened when Clyde Henry went to St. Cloud State University.
On his first report card he got straight As. He made it to the dean’s list semester after semester. And he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in art education.
For two years he taught K-12 art in the Dominican Republic. When he returned to the U.S., he founded The Learning Tree, a school that met the needs of newborn to school-age children. The school mainstreamed all children, despite their handicaps.
It was when he and his wife, Janet, moved to Ohio that a talent he had discovered when he was a discouraged little boy became his life’s work.
“I remember as a kid saying, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be an architect,’ ” he reminisced.
The lad who had been so good at drawing houses went back to school and earned a master of architecture degree. He soon became a partner in an architectural firm, and later, started his own firm.
Despite what everyone said, Clyde Henry amounted to much more than something.
He was a success.
Words come together
While getting words correct on paper was still difficult for Henry, with the help of an assistant who perused his communications for mistakes, he could always tell a great story.
After a trip to Alexandria in 2005 for a class reunion, he was moved to write a book.
For two years he worked on the story in his spare time. Having achieved professional success, in 2007 he retired to devote himself to the book, his family and volunteering.
In December 2008, published author was added to Henry’s list of accolades when Stanley James was released.
Stanley James is the story of learning disabled children attending a Catholic school in the 1950s. The entire novel takes place in Alexandria, with references to actual settings, businesses and landmarks. While it is based loosely on Henry’s own experiences, Stanley James is fiction.
“It’s a collage of bits and pieces of stories,” he said, explaining that some of the stories happened to him, friends, family and others. “I arranged these scraps of truth into what I hope is a larger truth.”
With the publication of Stanley James, Henry achieved yet another goal that no one ever thought possible. He describes his latest venture as “freeing” and, despite his struggles in school, doesn’t look back at those years with regret or anger.
“It has given me a life perspective,” he said. “You can’t look back and say it was awful. You can look back and say, ‘That was an experience I learned something from.’ ”
And if nothing else, he hopes that Stanley James will teach a lesson that goes beyond any classroom – acceptance.
“I hope the world has changed since the time the story took place,” Henry concluded. “I hope that Stanley James will make people more sensitive to what might be occurring around them and the courage to act when necessary.”