In the fall of 1982, while attending a Red Wings game I spotted Harold Ballard, the outspoken owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the press box. So I climbed the flight of steps to get his autograph. I greeted him with, “You have a very interesting team, Mr. Ballard. May I have your autograph?” He smiled and took out a photo of himself with his facsimile autograph with the inscription: “Have fun, it’s later than you think.” No one will confuse Ballard with Plato or Aristotle, but these words are great advice to pass along.
My longtime friend Henry Baker worked at Joe Louis Arena and received the same photo with this inscription when he asked for an autograph from Harold Ballard. Henry and I laughed about this. It was kind of like Harold was saying to autograph seekers: “Here take this; go away son, you bother me.”
Having fun was being around Henry Baker. A big teddy bear in stature, Henry worked the visiting team’s penalty box during Red Wings games and told me hysterically funny stories of his experiences working them. The very first time I met Henry I instantly liked him because he was so friendly. It was not known why exactly but Henry refused to get a driver’s license, therefore he needed friends, buses or taxis to get to destinations. Nevertheless he was always employed and always prompt.
Henry had his own language for every circumstance and occasion, reminiscent of the 1960s character Kookie Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip. He had a phrase for everything. As an example, he would use the term “shingle roof,” meaning “It’s on the house” and “He’s a real side buster,” meaning “He’s a funny guy.” However everyone knew Henry’s favorite saying: “Stick a fork in ’em,” implying someone or something was on the losing end and wouldn’t recover from the situation.
Henry Baker passed away in 2010, and standing next to his casket, a loved one remarked, meaning no disrespect, “There’s Henry and, like he always said, you can stick a fork in ’em.”
That was my friend Henry Baker, who made me laugh until the day he died. I had the pleasure of knowing Henry because I was introduced through my great friend, Ken Voss, who recently passed away.
Ken served the community as a Trenton Police Officer for more than 30 years and, though a bit older than me, was my good friend for more than 40 years. The Voss family moved from Waltz to Trenton in the 1950s. Ken was a little bit of a troublemaker as a teen (weren’t we all?), but grew into being a loving husband, a great father to five sons, and, importantly, an outstanding police officer. Ken rose in rank to police lieutenant, and was shift commander. As one of his fellow officers, Rob Smith said, “All the officers wanted to work on the shift Voss commanded” because “he was so respected as a leader.”
Kenny and I would stay up late talking one-on-one for hours, and we would share stories. Often Ken would tell me his experiences as a law enforcer. If there was a model cop it was Kenny Voss; he had the strength to handle any situation. Ken retired in 1997; obviously police work has changed over the years. It was once dealt as no-nonsense toward the police officer to today where police have to be very aware of every situation and handle with care. Ken could be tough, but he could be wise also — that’s why he was a terrific cop.
Myself, Ken Voss and Henry Baker’s lives would often revolve around sports and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them, especially playing golf with Ken, who made life fun, and we had so many laughs.
That same week that Ken passed I lost another friend, Jerry Glotfelty. Jerry worked as an emergency medical technician, and was also a kayak instructor. Jerry was a person who could communicate well with people — an excellent teacher of life, an inspiring man of faith. As my other two friends Henry and Ken, Jerry had an important component to his personality — a good sense of humor. These are people whom they walk in the front door of your life enrich you, enlighten you and entertain you — they make life fun.
Take Harold Ballard’s advice: “Have fun, it’s later than you think.”
Tony Mazzella welcomes readers to friend him on Facebook, where he frequently shares recollections about some of the interesting people and businesses in Trenton’s past.