Howard McHenry has been an automobile dealer, mayor of Harrisonville, President of the Kansas City Chiefs Club, district chairman for Boy Scouts of America, and director of a Dixieland band. He now lives in Raymore and is founder and CEO of CityMark, which he established “for the purpose of assisting towns and rural communities with their needs,” according to the company website.
This year he added one more item to his extensive resume: author of a children’s book.
The book, Pancake the Friendly Hog, tells the true story of a man and his two grandsons who made friends with a pig during their Memorial Day picnic. The characters are actually McHenry and his own grandsons, and their picnic took place under a shade tree in the graveyard where McHenry’s ancestors are buried. The story relates how, to their complete surprise and delight, they were reunited with Pancake for the following two years at their annual Memorial Day picnic.
The story’s events actually occurred back in 1999 and the early 2000’s, but McHenry finally put the memory in print this year. Long before the book came along, though, McHenry created a song about Pancake.
The tune for “Pancake Song” came to him in the middle of the night after the third Memorial Day encounter with that special pig in 2001. McHenry awoke at 2 AM with a melody and continued working on it the next day. Soon enough he made arrangements with a studio and began looking for a singer.
He knew he wanted a child to be the voice of the song. The ultimate choice proved to be the perfect one: his own grandson Matt, a boy who had been part of the Pancake memory from the beginning.
Their studio experience was extremely abbreviated, and the limited time gave them only one take at recording the song. But they did it, and now the recorded song is included in every copy of Pancake the Friendly Hog.
“Pancake Song” was certainly not McHenry’s first experience with music. He has an extensive musical background, including experience as director of the Rockets Dixieland Band. He also had a musical inspiration in his father, who was a farmer in Platte County, between Platte City and Smithville. He played music with the Smithville Uncle Pat’s Fiddling Fools.
McHenry remembers Sunday afternoons as a child, when music was the only mode of entertainment. His father’s fellow musicians would come to the McHenry home, along with others who came just to listen.
McHenry recalled, “After lunch, we’d always have music in our house.”
He pointed out that, with the Great Depression, “there wasn’t really anything to laugh about…. The best thing you could do to energize those people was have a gathering and have music.”
McHenry followed in his father’s musical footsteps from the time he was a boy.
“I started playing trombone when I was eleven,” he said. He continued to play the instrument throughout school, and after high school he was recruited to play trombone with a musical group that was traveling to Denver.
After his jaunt in Colorado, McHenry was inspired. He knew he wanted “to put together the best Dixieland band that’s possible.”
In 1961, he did just that. All the band members were businessmen and family men, but they made a commitment to their music, too. It was an opportunity for them to have fun and create great tunes.
“It took all seven of us to make that sound,” McHenry reflected. “It’s probably the greatest single achievement I’ve made in my life.”
Thirty-five years later, in 1996, the band performed their final concert to a crowd of 1200 people. Two songs from that farewell performance are included on the CD that comes with Pancake.
McHenry created the children’s book because many people, including his wife Joyce, encouraged him to do so. The song was recorded back in 2001, but whenever he shared the song with others, he always accompanied the tune with the tale. Now he finally has the story in print.
“I just want to get the story out,” explained McHenry.
The story is so charming it that some are surprised to find out it is true—but it is, and that is why it is so close to McHenry’s heart. His grandsons are older now, in their early twenties, but the story of Pancake never grows old. The family still meets at the same cemetery every Memorial Day.
If you would like a copy of Pancake the Friendly Hog, which comes with a CD, lyrics, and music, call the Rotary at 816-331-6900. A portion of the book sales goes toward a fund to build a fence around that special cemetery. To speak with Howard McHenry about coming to your program or event to share the story and the song, call 816-331-2521.