Born: October 9, 1925
Died: July 21, 2015
Married: Barbara Johnson Parnass
Children: Geoffrey W. Parnass, Lawrence E. Parnass, John H. Parnass
Henry Wagner Parnass was a paper industry leader who devoted himself in retirement to community causes in the Saranac Lake area. He served as president of the Adirondack North Country Association from 1995 to 1998, president of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from 1998 to 2002, and president and treasurer of the Saranac Lake Free Library from 1990 to 2000. He was a board member, director or trustee of Paul Smith’s College, the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the Marine Midland Bank, Pendragon Theatre, and the Saranac Lake Planning Board.Adirondack
Daily Enterprise, July 23, 2015
Henry W. Parnass
Henry Wagner Parnass, a paper industry leader who devoted himself in retirement to family and the good of his community, died peacefully July 21, 2015, at his home in Saranac Lake. He was 89.
Henry was a devoted father, husband, friend and grandfather who is remembered across the North Country for his keen mind, tenacity and generosity.
Henry’s beloved wife of 52 years, Barbara Johnson Parnass, died in 2002. He leaves his partner, Eleanor Sweeney of Saranac Lake, whom he cared for deeply and with whom he found great happiness after losing Barbara to cancer. He also leaves his three sons: Geoffrey of Ridgewood, New Jersey, Larry of Ashfield, Massachusetts, and John of Burien, Washington; and six grandchildren, Hunter Styles of Hatfield, Massachusetts, Emma Parnass of Brooklyn, Benjamin Parnass of Seattle, Washington, Jack Styles of Utsunomiya, Japan, Caroline Parnass of Canton, Georgia, and Liberty Styles of New York City.
Henry was born Oct. 9, 1925, at the Carson C. Peck Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn to Dr. Samuel and Ida Parnass. He grew up an only child of immigrant parents in an era of knickers and ice wagons. His mother’s brother, Leon Wagner, was an early mentor, exposing him to the joys of Madison Square Garden prize fights, Manhattan dinners and seeing the Brooklyn Dodgers play at Ebbets Field.
He was educated at Froebel Academy and Boys High School in Brooklyn, graduating in 1942, and enrolled at the age of 16 at Amherst College, interrupting his studies there to serve with the U.S. Navy Reserve from June 2, 1943, to April 7, 1946, during and after World War II, where he held the rank of pharmacist’s mate third class. After returning from war he resumed his studies at Amherst and joined the Theta Delta Chi fraternity, breaking a previous exclusion on Jewish members and making friendships he nurtured for decades.
Henry married Barbara Johnson on Sept. 2, 1950, and together they began a family. At Barbara’s urging he sought graduate study in business and in 1956 earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
For more than 30 years, Henry held positions in sales, marketing and administration in the paper-manufacturing industry, retiring in 1990 as president and CEO of the Newton Falls Paper Co. in Newton Falls, a position he took in 1971. His astute and hands-on leadership of the company for nearly two decades helped it remain a bedrock of the Adirondack economy.
He previously worked as a plant manager and vice president for the Hammermill Paper Co. in Erie, Pennsylvania, and its division in Watervliet, Michigan, after joining the firm in 1956. Before that, Henry worked for seven years in the New York City area with the Lily Tulip Cup Corp. and with textile firms.
Throughout his career, Henry gave generously of his time to arts, business and civic organizations, holding countless leadership positions in which people gained from his professionalism, high ethical standards and insight into how people can work together to achieve shared goals.
Henry served as president of the Adirondack North Country Association (1995 to 1998), president of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (1998 to 2002) and president and treasurer of the Saranac Lake Free Library (1990 to 2000). He was a board member, director or trustee of the American Paper Institute, Paul Smith’s College, the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Architectural Heritage, the Marine Midland Bank, Pendragon Theatre, the Plattsburgh State Foundation, the Saranac Lake Planning Board and Upstate Biotechnology Inc.
After leaving Newton Falls, he shared his business acumen by undertaking a 1996 mission to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to advise a struggling paper company as a consultant with the International Executive Service Corps.
Henry was also a longtime patron of arts organizations and of individual artists. He served as president of the Erie County (Pennsylvania) Arts Council starting in 1970, endowed an arts scholarship at Plattsburgh State University in the name of his late wife, Barbara Johnson Parnass, and in 2003 created the public art program in her name that for several years purchased works by Saranac Lake area artists and placed them in local institutions.
Henry believed in the importance of education, supporting undergraduate and professional studies by his children and grandchildren. He taught business marketing courses as an adjunct professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam and delivered the 1975 commencement address at Paul Smith’s, when he told graduates to prepare themselves for a world of increasing globalization.
Though he occupied executive offices and had to negotiate a corporate culture, Henry held a deep fellow feeling for everyone who works for a living. Years after he left paper manufacturing, he retained ties with Newton Falls and its people, suffering with them the mill’s demise under later owners.
Though a city boy at heart, Henry came to love the Adirondacks, taking up skiing later in life. It was his honor to serve as grand marshal of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in 2001. He believed in self-improvement and the benefit of exercise. On Sept. 1, 1960, he aced the 152-yard eighth hole at the Blossom Trails Golf Club in Benton Harbor, Michigan. He laced up his sneakers when running became popular in the 1970s, was devoted to tennis, and he later enjoyed lap swimming at the North Country Community College pool, cross-country skiing through North Country winters and rowing a guideboat on Spitfire Lake. His clockwork trips to a Saranac Lake gym through his 80s prompted some female members to nickname him “the stud.” This past winter he donned a bathing suit at age 89 to regularly swim in the waters off Sanibel Island in Florida, occasionally joined by passing dolphins.
Henry’s thirst for knowledge remained with him to the end. He pumped visitors in his final days for details of their lives and challenges and urged one visiting son to go out “and have an adventure.” He remained a daily reader of the New York Times, consuming the entire paper but working the sports pages especially well. His bedside reading at the time of his death included Joseph Mitchell’s collected stories about colorful characters in pre-war New York City, Henry’s native land.
A memorial service is being planned for Aug. 22, with details to be provided later. Memorial gifts can be directed to the Saranac Lake Interfaith Food Pantry, P.O. Box 532, Saranac Lake, NY 12983.