While on leave in London in 1947, sailor Henry C. Thode Sr. got a treat that likely made him the envy of his unit: He attended the engagement party of then-Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten in Buckingham Palace.
The invitation came after publicity agents for the Royal Family recruited him off the street, hoping to add the cachet of the American Navy to the gathering, his family said. That was one milestone in the life of a Riverhead native who so wanted to serve during World War II that he begged his father to allow him to join the military even though he was underage. He finally enlisted at 17 once the war was over and served from 1946 to 1948, reaching the rank of first class aviation machinist mate.
Thode would go on to raise 13 children in a 62-year marriage, earn bachelor's and master's degrees and later teach mechanical engineering at what is now Farmingdale State College.
Thode died on March 8 of diabetes, his family said. He was 82.
"He fixed everything himself," said Denise Boccio of Huntington Station, one of Thode's eight daughters, adding that her father built the house the children grew up in on 16th Street in Huntington Station. As kids came, Thode added rooms. When more came, he added a floor.
"If he couldn't fix something, he'd run down to his machine shop to make the machine to fix what he was fixing," Boccio said. "He was always able to fix things, no matter what it was."
Born in Riverhead in April 1929, Thode was raised in Huntington. He attended public schools but enlisted before he could earn a diploma at Huntington High School. When he came back to Huntington in 1948 after serving on the USS Randolph aircraft carrier, he earned a general equivalency diploma and met the former Dorothy Kelske, a woman who he told friends he would marry after setting eyes on her for the first time at a bridal shower. They hadn't even been introduced."He fell in love with her beauty and said, 'I want to marry that woman,' " Boccio said.
The couple married in May 1949. They settled in Huntington and had their first child in 1950. Twelve more -- eight girls and five boys -- arrived until the last one in 1971.
Thode earned a bachelor's degree at SUNY Old Westbury. He also earned a master of business administration degree from Adelphi University. He became an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at Farmingdale State College.
A master tool and die machinist and certified manufacturing engineer, he owned a machine shop, HC Thode Inc., and created items for Fairchild Republic, the Army, the Navy and even Grumman. Thode was also the director of the nonprofit Tool & Machine Institute that trained adults.
In addition to his wife, Thode is survived by seven daughters, Dorothy Kalies and Diana Huss, both of Clinton, Donna Hardesty of Greenlawn, Denise Boccio of Huntington Station, Dorraine Thode of Water Mill, Dawn Barca of Huntington Station, and Dana D'Amico of Commack (daughter Deborah Anne Melia-Barrett predeceased him); five sons, Jeremy of Nesconset, Henry Jr. of Port Jefferson Station, Theodore, Micah and Jonathan, all of Huntington Station; 30 grandchildren; and 16 great grandchildren.