The Radical of Rose Island Road

Wallace remembered
as a journalist, activist, animal lover

Family members, others read Wallace's letters
at a July memorial event in his honor

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

PROSPECT, Ky. (August 2006) – Known to the world as a civil rights activist, Henry Wallace was much more than that to his six children. When he died April 19, he left behind a legacy of tolerance for his family to carry on.

August 2006 Kentucky Cover

August 2006
Kentucky Edition Cover

“He’ll be very much missed,” said daughter Leoni Santander, 36. Santander is one of six children who grew up in the Wallace household. Other siblings include Carla Wallace, Sonja deVries, Henry Brian Wallace, Naomi Wallace and Sharon Wallace. He also has one sister living, Augusta Wallace Lyons, 92, of Louisville.
Santander said her father had a great sense of humor. “It’s how he dealt with a lot of political issues,” she said.
Wallace was surrounded by political issues a good deal of his life. He often marched at civil rights demonstrations and spoke out against the Vietnam War, racial injustice and the American backing of Latin American dictators.
Daughter Naomi remembers attending demonstrations as a child with her father and mother, Sonja deVries, who was also involved in the civil rights movement. “He made it fun,” said Naomi. He allowed his children to bring pets, one in particular being a lamb that wore a sticker toting, “Get out of Vietnam.”
But on a more serious note, what Naomi and her siblings learned from such experiences stuck with them for life. Her father taught her that, “In this adventure we call life, we’re all connected, and an injury or injustice to one affects us all,” she said.
Wallace’s travels and an open mind made him who he was, said Santander. His father, Tom Wallace, was editor of The Louisville Times from 1930 through World War II. His mother, Augusta French Wallace, was heir to a pharmaceutical fortune.
Wallace attended private schools and left Kentucky Military Institute before finishing his senior year to sail around South America on a merchant ship. He returned to his home state to attend the University of Kentucky.
Journalism and a sense of travel were in his blood. Relying on his Spanish skills, he landed a job working for a newspaper in Puerto Rico and eventually worked his way up to a job with the Havana Post.
“He was really captivated by Cuba,” said Leoni.

Henry F. Wallace

Photo courtesy of the Wallace-deVries family

Henry Wallace poses with the cans
of nutritional drink he lived on in his
latter months of life. This photo
was taken during his trip to Mexico
and Cuba just a month before he died.

Wallace was an avid supporter of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro. Before the Revolution, said Leoni, Cuban citizens could not read and write and had no health care system. Wallace saw the Revolution as a channel to bring about a much-needed change.
Wallace first went to Cuba in the 1940s as a journalist. By living and working there, “He saw how unequal and unjust the society was,” said daughter Sonja deVries. “After the revolution, he was inspired by was he saw.”
Cuba became an example of how things can be done differently, said deVries.
“Everyone has different views on dad’s involvement in Cuba,” said his son Henry. He said his father provided verbal support to the cause and “understood why change needed to happen and he spoke out about it.”
Wallace worked for a time as a Time-Life correspondent. In 1951, Wallace moved to Paris and landed a job with Time Magazine covering North Africa. He frequently traveled to the Middle East, said Leoni.

Penny Schaefer


It was while traveling across the desert with a caravan, he met his future first wife, Sonia deVries, a journalist from Holland. “They fell in love and traveled for two to three years together,” said Leoni. They married in Beruit in the late 1950s.
The Wallace’s returned to Prospect to raise their family. Naomi said the family would often travel to Amsterdam, and the children grew up between the two locations.
She recalls winters in Prospect, where Wallace would go sledding with his children. The children would sleigh down a steep hill, and Wallace would tie their sleds together at the bottom of the hill and use a jeep to pull them back up to the top so the children could do the same thing all over again.
In cases like this, “My father was extremely patient,” Naomi said, laughing. Wallace was always taking his children “adventuring,” she said. They would trek to the creeks on their farm in search of snakes and turtles, “which we left in their natural habitat.”
Naomi also remembers her father teaching her to fly fish. As she was casting into the river, she heard a quiet curse word behind her. Startled, she turned to find that she had hooked her father in the ear. But the quiet curse word was the only thing he said.
Next to his children, civil rights and the environment were his greatest passions in life, said Naomi. He focused on preserving the land around him for future generations to enjoy.

Henry Wallace
Who was Henry Wallace?

Henry F. Wallace was born June 12, 1915, and died April 19, 2006, at age 90.
He was known in his home of Prospect, Ky., as an ardent activist, conservationist and journalist. He inherited his jounalistic genes from his father, Tom Wallace, who had served as the editor of The Louisville Times from 1930 through World War II.
Henry Wallace had early stints as a reporter in Lexington, Ky., and in public relations. He answered an ad to work for a newspaper in Puerto Rico. After World War II he worked for Cuba's Havana Post and was a stringer for other news organizations, including a period as a Time-Life correspondent. He became the press agent for the Hotel Nacional in Havana and soon became involved in Cuba's social and political circles.
In 1951, he moved to Paris, where he worked with Time Magazine covering much of North Africa. He met his first wife, Sonja deVries, in Tangier. After extensive travel, the couple moved to Prospect in the late 1950s and started raising their family. They later divorced.
Tom Wallace, meanwhile, was an ardent conservationist who bought the original part of the family farm in 1911. Henry's mother, Augusta French Wallace, was an heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. Henry took over the family farm in 1961 when his father died.
Throughout his life, Henry Wallace appeared at numerous political demonstrations in support of the Cuban Revolution. He admired Cuban President Fidel Castro for standing up to the U.S. administration. Late in life, Wallace was seen taking part in demonstrations while in a wheelchair.
Locally, he was famous for his letters to the editor and for the free mini-zoo he created at his family's 600-acre farm as a token of his conservatism. The zoo, which still operates by donation, cares for injured, sick and abandoned exotic and domestic animals.
Henry has spoken out against or written about U.S. administration policies toward the Vietnam War, the arms race, racial injustice, gay rights and the American backing of Latin American dictators.
Not long after his divorce from Sonja, he married his second wife, Peggy Wier, who died in 1990.
Wallace had five daughters and a son by his first wife: Sonja deVries of Louisville; Carla Wallace of Louisville; Leoni Santander of Amsterdam; Naomi Wallace of North Yorkshire, England; Sharon Wallace of Louisville; and Henry Brian Wallace of Prospect. He also is survived by a sister, Augusta Wallace Lyons of Louisville and his ex-wife, Sonja deVries of Amsterdam.
In 2000, Wallace and his six children committed to preserving the family farm on Rose Island Road in Prospect by signing a conservation easement that protects it from development. The easement was estimated to be worth $8.1 million and probably remains the largest in monetary value in Kentucky, state officials say.

– Information gathered from various media reports

In 1911, Wallace’s father bought a farm on Rose Island Road in Prospect. Wallace took over the farm in 1961 upon his father’s death. Wallace’s 600-acre farm, Moncada, will always remain a haven from development, due to a conservation easement he and his children signed in 2000.
“His vision of preserving land was a wise decision,” said Leoni, who lives in Amsterdam. Upon returning to Prospect for her father’s July 26 memorial service in Louisville, she said she was amazed at how quickly the area had developed.
Henry’s Ark rests on roughly 30 acres of the farm and is a mini-zoo that is home to camels, bison, goats, yaks and 41 deer. “It is a gift to the community,” said Penny Schaefer, director of Henry’s Ark. The zoo can be toured year round and is visited by 40,000 to 50,000 people annually. Admission is free but donations are accepted.
Schaefer came to work for Wallace in the mid 1980s as a housekeeper. As Wallace collected more animals, currently 200 in all, she became director of the zoo, overseeing the daily operations. The zoo takes in rescued animals and is operated strictly by donations.
“Dad always loved animals,” said Henry Jr.
He’d have odd pets like groundhogs and opossums, and he began the zoo with five Japanese deer in the early 1970s. He bred the deer and the herd grew, all the while collecting other animals as well, said Henry Jr.
And Wallace “always took time for his children,” said Henry Jr. He took them to school events and “whatever we were involved in, he was involved in.”
Wallace was 48 when his son was born, and he was worried that he wouldn’t live to see me grow up, said Henry Jr. He and his father lived together at Moncada for a time, while his sisters were staying in Amsterdam. Henry Jr. said they explored together, and he learned a lot about nature.
“He made family life as normal as possible, and provided a structured atmosphere,” said Henry Jr.
For a short period in 1976, Sonja deVries Wallace decided to move the family to Madrid. Naomi, Sonja, Henry and their father all followed. But Henry Jr. said the family was not comfortable living in a city like Madrid when they had been reared on a rural setting in Prospect. Soon after, Henry’s parents divorced.
In 1978, Wallace married Peggy Willett Weir. She died in 1990. His first wife, Sonja deVries, still lives in Amsterdam.
Wallace had a real love for animals and people, said Leoni. Life was simple for him, defined in terms of black and white, with no judgmental views. “He taught us to be good to one another.” He practiced what he preached by acting the same way toward everyone, Leoni said.

Henry F. Wallace

Photo courtesy of Wallace-deVries family

Henry Wallace feeds the birds while
walking on the beach in Puerto Morelos,
Mexico, during his March 2006 trip there.
He was an avid animal lover, as evidenced
by his “Henry’s Ark” petting zoo on
the family farm in Prospect, Ky.

“I’m amazed at how many people he touched,” she said. “In general, he taught us a real respect for all human beings,” said eldest daughter, Sonja. she organized the memorial service for her father at Masterson’s in Louisville. The program attracted more than 300 people and consisted mainly of readings of Wallace’s numerous “Letters to the Editor” that he had penned to the Louisville Times and Courier-Journal over the years. The event also featured songs performed by Leoni and other family members, and a six-minute film on his life that Sonja created.
Sonja, an independent filmmaker, has a long-term vision of producing a one-hour documentary on her father. She said her family is very close, even though sister Naomi lives in England and Leoni in Amsterdam. She will seek input from her siblings, and the film will “be like a history of the different phases of my father’s life. I’ve never done a project this personal.”
Even though Wallace felt a strong attachment to Cuba and its people, “Prospect was always his home,” said Sonja. In February 2006, Wallace visited Cuba one last time for four days.
“It was a place he loved very much,” said Sonja.

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