Henry S. Stamatel, 99, of Camillus, passed away Wednesday at home, after a brief illness. Born 100 years ago in Stamford, CT, his parents were immigrants from southeast Poland and their lives were extremely modest. By 1930, his Uncle Steven had taken him in, and he lived with Uncle Steven's family, while his mother worked as a domestic in nearby Rye, NY. In the 1930s, Henry, his widowed mother, and sister moved into subsidized housing in downtown Stamford.
By 1941, Henry was an Eagle Scout, ready to graduate from Stamford High School and go to work in a factory to support his family, but then the Japanese Air Force bombed Pearl Harbor and he joined the military.
Henry was trained to be a navigator of a B-29 in the Army Air Corps. As a father, he did not readily share his memories of the war until he was in his 80s when told his adult children, "I flew over the Empire three times." Henry took part in the bombing of the oil reserves at Akita, Japan, the longest bombing raid ever attempted by the 20th Air Force. He remembered that this mission began with the plane positioned for takeoff at the end of the runway while a fuel truck drove out to top off the B-29's tanks one final time. A chaplain was riding in the front seat of the truck. The mission was an American success, and Henry and his fellow aviators were returning to Guam when the radioman announced that Hirohito had surrendered. Weeks later, he boarded a troop ship and made his way through the Panama Canal to Fairfield Court in Stamford.
Henry’s military service paid for his education at UConn and Yale University, where he earned civil engineering degrees. He married Mary Pat Fraser in 1954 and began a family immediately. Henry worked as a watershed management specialist for the Soil Conservation Service for his entire working life, helping municipalities manage flooding and create reservoirs for drinking water. In later years, he was magnanimous about the change in philosophy that undammed many American rivers. A good friend who was also his boss, Bob Addison, took Henry with him when he moved from New Hampshire to New York in 1971. In Camillus, he mounted a tall rotating antenna on the roof of his home so he could watch "Hockey Night" in Canada on Saturdays. He was a steady parishioner at St. Joseph's Church in Camillus, where he lived with his family in the same house until Wednesday afternoon.
Henry was a dedicated naturalist who regularly took his five children and devoted wife camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Adirondacks of New York. He once nailed a fish to a log and then hid, camera in hand, until a raccoon showed up. Henry made false moths out of the scales of green pinecones to distract tired hikers and let his children drink surface water in the woods. He schooled the next generation in a wide array of outdoor skills, from grafting fruit trees and reading topo maps to paddling canoes and building fires in the rain. Henry was an early Nordic skier when equipment had to be ordered directly from Norway! Intelligent, diligent, self-possessed, and modest, Henry, along with his wife, provided for the education of their children, and for payments on their homes.
One of Henry’s favorite pastimes was attending the sporting events of his children and grandchildren. In retirement, he and Pat enjoyed winters in their Airstream trailer in the citrus groves of Florida for a time, where he cultivated bananas, blood oranges, and pink grapefruits. Henry learned trailering from his dear friend, Dave Smith. His family spent many Christmases with his beloved neighbors, the Miglierina family.
Henry was predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Pat, whom he nursed through her final days with grace and resolve.
Surviving are his five children, Thomas (Tracey), Stanley (Helen), Mary (Mark), Elizabeth (Ray), and Lawrence (Viola); and seven wonderful grandchildren, Savanna, Brendan, Lauren, Andrew, Patrick, Henry, and Theo, who will miss his steady, quiet presence.
As his yard man declared, "He had a great run!"
Relatives and friends may call Friday, May 26 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Buranich Funeral Home, 5431 W. Genesee St., Camillus.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday, May 27 at 9:30 a.m. in St. Joseph’s Church, 5600 W. Genesee St., Camillus.
Henry will be laid to rest in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Marcellus.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Central New York Land Trust, Inc., 7 Fennell St., Ste. 2, Skaneateles, NY 13152.