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GH tot braves blizzard to find Santa

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Henry climbed out of his crib and headed outdoors into the snow before midnight Dec. 24, 1935 — wearing nothing but his pajamas and a pair of his mother's bedroom slippers on his feet.

According to the Grand Haven Tribune, the temperature that evening was near zero, with blizzard-like conditions, and snow drifts up to 3 feet high.

But Henry was on a mission; the impatient boy wanted to find Santa Claus.

Henry had been tucked into his crib and given assurances Santa would soon be coming. Some time after he fell asleep, the boy's parents, Henry and Loretta King, briefly dashed next door to a neighbor's house to pick up presents they had stored there.

During their short absence, Henry awoke, crawled out from his crib and left the house.

Upon their return, Henry's parents discovered their son missing from his crib, and thought Loretta's mother might have stopped by and taken the child to her home. It was quickly learned the child was not with grandma — but was, in fact, missing.

Outside, little Henry braved wintry conditions and made it as far as Hetzel's Drug Store (now Pfaff's Pharmacy), about a block and a half from home. That's where Grand Haven police officer Bernie Hirdes, on his nightly beat, saw a tot staring in the window of a store.

Officer Hirdes could hardly believe his eyes as he approached the boy, clad only in pajamas. Henry stood barefoot. He had lost his mother's slippers during the trek.

Hirdes draped his coat over the child, picked him up and asked him his name. Henry didn't say who he was, but he did explain why he was out on Christmas Eve.

"I'm waiting for Santa," the toddler said.

According to The Associated Press, Henry's mother had brought him to this location earlier on Christmas Eve to meet an in-store Santa Claus. The boy was peeking in the store window trying to see if Old St. Nick was still there when the officer encountered him.

Hirdes carried the child to his own home on Fulton Avenue for shelter and warmth. By then, the Kings had contacted the police department, and parents and son were soon reunited.

The Kings brought Henry Jr. back home as the first hour ticked away on Christmas Day. According to the Grand Haven Tribune, when Henry Jr. spied the presents under the tree in their living room, he stated, "Oh, Santa really did come."

After resuming his sleep, then reawakening later that Christmas morning, Henry was "playing with his Christmas toys, no worse for the expedition," it was reported. He had suffered no injuries during his journey to find Santa.

Henry "Hank" King Jr., born in Grand Haven on Jan. 21, 1933, went on to graduate from the University of Michigan in 1958. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, and worked as an industrial engineer and plant manager in the auto industry for many years.

By 1979, Henry and his wife, Kathryn "Kay" King, residents of Bloomfield Hills, became snowbirds and seasonal residents in St. Augustine, Fla. — finally taking permanent residence there in 1989.

According to their three children — Cynthia, Nancy and Michael — the tale of their father's toddler trek on Christmas Eve often came up.

"Whenever we (kids) got into trouble with dad, we brought it up," said Michael King of Port Huron.

The tale didn't always defuse discipline, but fostered humorous family folklore.

Cynthia still has a brittle and yellowed clipping of the Dec. 26, 1935, Grand Haven Tribune newspaper article about her father's search for Santa. She keeps it inside of a wooden box.

Henry King Jr. passed away at age 77 on Nov. 5, 2010, but his Christmas story will long endure.

"It's a wonderful story," said Kay King, who is visiting Michigan for the holidays.

Henry's family will be sharing the tale again this Christmas Eve, via this column online and in the Tribune — 77 years later.

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