Jeff Jardine: McHenry family member fascinated by history uncovered by Modesto museum researcher

jjardine@modbee.comDecember 9, 2013 

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57

From the emails, voicemails and other sources:

FAMILY MATTERS – When McHenry Museum researcher Janet Lancaster unveiled her findings about Modesto icon Robert McHenry – that he was born Robert Henry Brewster, deserted the Army in 1847 or so, changed his name to McHenry and came to California – many people found the revelations intriguing. Count some of McHenry’s descendents among them.

Over the weekend, I received a call from Tim McHenry of Glastonbury, Conn. He is Robert McHenry’s great-great grandson and, until he read my Sept. 29 column about Lancaster’s findings, wondered why the family lineage hit a roadblock with Robert McHenry.

“We thought he was adopted, and that is why the genealogy stopped with him,” Tim McHenry said.

A quick recap of the family tree: The McHenrys descended from William Brewster, who co-wrote the Mayflower Compact. Robert Brewster was born in Vermont in 1827 and eventually moved with other family members to Ohio. He lived there until joining the Army in 1846 expecting to guard forts along the Oregon Trail. When the Army revised his orders and attempted to send him to fight in the Mexican-American War, he deserted and headed west to California, where he remade himself as Robert McHenry.

Tim McHenry wonders where the secret died within the family. Was it with Robert’s son, Oramil? Was it with Oramil’s son, Merl?

When the column appeared, Merl’s youngest son, Malcolm, called brother Martin – Tim McHenry’s father – and told him of Lancaster’s findings.

“My dad told Malcolm, ‘You must be smoking something,’” Tim said.

But Lancaster got a DNA match to confirm the Brewster-McHenry link. The McHenrys are a family loaded with doctors, Ph.D’s and other assorted brains.

“Being scientists, you can’t refute the DNA,” said Tim McHenry, a metallurgist who works in the aerospace industry. “I’m just in awe of the work (Lancaster) did. It really piqued my interest.”

The ironies: Tim McHenry’s dad, Martin, became a physician at the Mayo Clinic and then headed the infectious diseases department at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, not far from where Robert (Brewster) McHenry once lived.

Tim grew up in Cleveland but now lives and works less than three hours from Plymouth, Mass., where his Brewster ancestors once lived, and about a four-hour drive from Robert (Brewster) McHenry’s birthplace in Vermont.

GO WITH THE FLOW – There are casual dips in backyard pools and then there are the extremes. Sandra Choate of Escalon is opting for the latter, and for a noble cause. On Aug. 3, 2014, she’ll plunge into the Mississippi River at St. Paul, Minn., and begin a downstream swim that will last more than 70 days and end in Baton Rouge, La. – a distance of roughly 2,321 miles.

Why? To raise money for the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. The center is in Stony Brook, N.Y. Choate is taking time off from her job as a long-haul trucker to train.

“I’ve always wanted to go down the Mississippi and I’ve always loved to swim,” she said. After losing a friend to breast cancer and watching a relative battle it, she decided to make the swim – alone in the water – with a purpose.

She’ll be accompanied by a 48-foot yacht, and kayakers will paddle ahead of and behind her as lookouts.

“I’m not making a dime off of this,” she said. “Everything goes to the Baldwin Fund.”

To donate, visit her Web page at

JUST DUCKY – If you’ve driven north on Highway 99 through Modesto recently, you might have noticed the Coors beer billboard supporting the Oregon Ducks football program.

Why, might you ask, would there be a billboard supporting the Oregon Ducks in Ceres, which is 90 minutes from Cal and about two hours from Stanford, both Pac-12 schools? Bob Dinsmore is president of CenCal Distributing, which is the Miller/Coors distributor in the area. He’s also involved in Coors’ national promotions that include the 49ers, Giants, A’s, Sharks and Warriors, and 30 major colleges nationwide.

Stanford and Cal didn’t sign on for such an alignment, he said. The universities of Oregon and Arizona did.

The Valley has a sizable number of Oregon alumni living here, and Stanislaus County residents are among the school’s top 10 Facebook visitors nationally, he said. Add to the mix that Central Catholic alum John Mundt became a starter as a freshman, and that there was available sign time between the expiration of a 49ers ad targeting Latinos and the Coors ad involving the Golden State Warriors, which will replace the Oregon ad by Jan. 1.

So he chose the Oregon promotion, picked at a time when the Ducks were undefeated and considered national title contenders. Oops!

“Local Oregon alumni have been quick to accuse me of ‘jinxing’ the Ducks with that billboard,” Dinsmore said. “They promptly lost three games since the board went up.”

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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