Obituary of Emil Hengstwerth Jr.
Emil Hengstwerth Jr., 91, of Edgewater, died Saturday, June 10. Preceded in death by his father and mother, Emil and Irma Waldinger Hengstwerth, and a sister, Helga Hengstwerth. Survived by his sister Linda Schneider, nephew Jake Schneider, and niece Maria Schneider, all of Houston, Texas.
Born at home in his parents’ eastside Manhattan apartment during the depression, Emil grew up in different New York and New Jersey towns, the family following Emil Sr.’s work. After residing in Guttenberg, NJ, it was the house and home they moved to in Edgewater that he loved best. Emil attended George Washington School with the boys who would grow up to be his best friends for his whole life. He sadly outlived almost all of his friends; his two closest, Donald Kopczynski and Vincent Carlson, passing away most recently, as well as the love of his life Janet Fellowes.
In 1948, at the age of 17, Emil joined the army and was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he was a lifeguard at the officer’s club. While there he was selected for the Honor Guard and took part in processions and presentations at state funerals, including General John J. Pershing’s, and was on duty as a guard in Washington, D.C., at President Harry S Truman’s inauguration. He often told of being impressed, as a teen, to see famous movie stars like Jane Powell, who were guests there.
War in Korea was imminent, and his superior officers advised him to stay put at Fort Belvoir, lest he be drafted into the conflict, but Emil was homesick and left when his stint was up. It was only a few months later that was drafted, and served in Korea with Company C 8th Cavalry Regiment. He was wounded in Songmae-dong in July 1951 and received three Bronze Service Stars and the Purple Heart.
After the war, Emil took up again with his old gang, many of whom became members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in town. Being in the trades, he and his friends were always ready to lend a hand to one another, helping with building projects and car repairs. In the late 1950s they joined together to erect American Legion Post 116 in Edgewater.
A low-key but colorful personality, Emil studied at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan in 1958 and appeared in several “off-off Broadway” plays: Look Homeward Angel, The Crucible, Bus Stop, and Separate Tables. He took flying lessons at Teterboro Airport and once buzzed the area over the former Palisades Amusement Park to impress a girlfriend who lived nearby.
A builder and tradesman most of his life, Emil later worked eight years as a prison guard at the Bergen County Jail until 1982, after which he retired. The Edgewater Colony being his home from his youth, he later served on the Colony board of directors. Over the years, residing next to the Hudson River, he spent many hours boating and treating his nephew and friends to trips around Manhattan. He could be seen walking around the Colony with his Dachshund Freddie, who followed him everywhere. Always part of the community, he would teach you to drive or sit your kid if you needed help.
Emil’s creative expertise was a marvel: He assembled a Model A Ford from parts, ground up; renovated his parents’ house, and later built a house for himself and another for his sister. Always eager to start a project, he enjoyed coming up with new ideas, building a better mousetrap and relishing the challenge. His home was full of his crafts: model boats and planes; gadgets, sculptures, furniture life-sized and miniature. He loved working with his hands, growing plants from seeds, even training palms into a tree-like form, and building a large stone pond for the koi fish that brought him pleasure.
Both science-minded and intuitive, Emil was a spiritual person, with sensitivity to nature and animals. He delighted in watching deer, rabbits and other wildlife forage in his yard. Emil was his own person, an individual who valued his friends and family, who loved him in return. His motto was, in effect, take it easy.
“Easy does it, Emil!”