This one's for Hank
February 09, 2011 - Oxford is about to lose its real Citizen of the Year.
A few weeks ago I wrote a story about how Hank Szlenkier is leaving this community on Monday, Feb. 14 after 19 years of faithful service.
Hank is the caseworker for Oxford-Addison Youth Assistance, an organization dedicated to helping at-risk kids by reducing delinquency, abuse and neglect.
Hank's movin' on up the Oakland County Youth Assistance ladder by taking charge of the Mentors Plus program, which pairs at-risk youth with adult volunteers serving as positive role models.
Our loss is clearly their gain.
A new caseworker will be sent to fill Hank's job, but she will never be able to fill his shoes.
Hank is different than many of the government-types I've encountered over the last 12 years in that he's humble, hard-working and truly cares about what he does and the community he serves.
Unlike others, he doesn't play politics, seek out the limelight or spend his days glad-handing. He just does his job – a very rare thing these days.
Hank never started a project he didn't finish.
In fact, he often completed projects that others had started or committed to on OAYA's behalf.
It may sound corny or cliche, but Hank reminds me of a modern-day Father Flanagan, the Catholic priest who founded the famous Boys Town in 1921.
Like Flanagan, he never views any kid as a lost cause. He's always willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent a youth from ending up in jail, on the streets, in a hospital or in a coffin.
Each kid he helps isn't just another folder on his desk.
He knows their names. He knows their faces. He knows their stories. He knows their problems.
Hank becomes whatever those kids need be it a friend, a counselor, a mentor or a father-figure. He knows that sometimes what a kid needs most is just someone to listen.
As a journalist, I greatly appreciated the fact that Hank was always open and honest with me. He'd let me know what was going on behind the scenes and he didn't pull any punches.
Hank's a "tell it like it is" kind of a guy. What you see is what you get with him.
As a result, whenever Hank needed a story to promote one of OAYA's many wonderful programs or fund-raisers, I was there, from the Children's Community Garden to the annual Duck Race.
I'm going to miss Hank a lot.
He's definitely one of the good guys – someone who's true to his word, committed to his work and helpful to those in need.
It seems like the good guys always leave much too soon while the bad guys stick around forever.
So long, Hank. Best of luck and don't be a stranger.
Note: Happy 94th birthday to Oxford's favorite retired cobbler, Perry Hathaway. He owned and operated Perry's Shoe Service in downtown Oxford from 1950-89.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.