Henry F. Hoeckel Jr., a retired estimator and project manager for the Genstar Stone Products Co. and a World War II veteran, died on Dec. 13 at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., of heart failure. He was 89.
Mr. Hoeckel's love for his family and friends poured forth in the comic verses that he wrote for holidays, for parties, and sometimes for no occasion at all.
Take the poem that he penned to his wife, Colleen, after heart surgery in 1999 ruined the couple's planned vacation to Phoenix. One verse went like this:
"You work so hard to get me well,
"My thanks for what you've done,
"But most of all I thank you
"For calling 9-1-1."
The poem ends with Mr. Hoeckel promising: "I think I'll give my nurse a kiss — she looks a lot like you."
"I have a whole drawer full of those poems," said his wife, Colleen Hoeckel, adding that they were married for nearly 67 years. "Each one is special. And he didn't just write them for me — he wrote them for everyone."
Mr. Hoeckel came honestly by both his sense of humor and his gift of gab. His lifelong friend was second cousin John Steadman, who became an acclaimed sportswriter for The Baltimore Sun. Steadman frequently reminisced in print about his days living in Govans and attending Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic elementary school — and a young Henry Hoeckel featured prominently in those recollections.
Sun readers became familiar with the boys bombarding a delivery truck with snowballs, only to have their hands smacked with a ruler by Sister Mary Cordelia, or with the momentous day they were promoted from the lowly "Sparrows" reading group into the more advanced "Bluebirds."
World War II broke out when Henry had just turned 18, and he was a senior in high school when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. Family members say that one of Mr. Hoeckel's most vivid memories was saying good-bye to his parents, before boarding the street car on York Road for the trip to Fort McHenry, where he'd been instructed to report for duty.
Mr. Hoeckel became a ball turret gunner for the 489th Bomb Group and attained the rank of sergeant. His squadron, which was stationed in England, flew missions over German territory. His job was to fend off attacking German fighter planes that regularly threatened the lumbering B-24 and B-17 bombers.
"Once a shell from an enemy aircraft exploded just outside the plane," Mr. Hoeckel's son, David Hoeckel, said. "A piece of flak came through the body of the plane and rattled around for a while. But, it didn't bring the plane down, so they got lucky that day."
After the war ended, Mr. Hoeckel returned to Baltimore. He was working at the former Esso refinery in East Baltimore when he met a secretary named Colleen Lynch. They married in May 1948.
Though his education had been interrupted by the war, Mr. Hoeckel returned to college in the 1960s, earning a certificate in drafting from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He began a 40-year career in the construction and paving industry as an estimator and crew manager for the company that eventually became Genstar.
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"Family were always number one for him," David Hoeckel said. "His faith and his country were numbers two and three, in close order."
In addition to his own three sons, Mr. Hoeckel served as a kind of surrogate father to his wife's much younger brother, Joseph E. Lynch Jr., whose father died when the boy was 8.
"He was at our house all the time and became almost like a fourth son," David Hoeckel said.
After Mr. Hoeckel's retirement, the couple moved to Ocean Pines, Md., where they enjoyed boating, crabbing and fishing. Mr. Hoeckel also attended several reunions of the 489th Bomb Group, and maintained friendships with many of his former crew members.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, 5502 York Road.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Hoeckel is survived by sons Paul F. Hoeckel of Freeland, David J. Hoeckel of Baltimore and R. Gregory Hoeckel of Baltimore; brother-in-law Joseph E. Lynch Jr. of Ocean Pines, Md.; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.