Victoria man celebrates 90th birthday at Whataburger

Tommy Henry, of Victoria, opens a gift with his neighbor Susan Grahmann at the North Navarro Street Whataburger. Henry was celebrating his 90th birthday.

Tommy Henry remembers when coffee at Whataburger was 5 cents a cup - he has the collector mugs to remind him.

He and his late wife, Dottie, would often enjoy a hot cup of joe from those coffee cups.

Late Saturday morning, he pulled them down from a cabinet, and to celebrate his 90th birthday, he made a trip to Whataburger on North Navarro Street for a refill.

Henry beamed with pride walking into the restaurant, his smile broad and contagious. For the past couple of weeks, he diligently worked with a therapist to use the cane in his hand rather than the inconvenient walker that he hates.

"I've been practicing," he announced over the birthday wishes pouring out from his friends and store employees.

His smile grew as he took in the balloon-themed decorations and the black-and-white photograph of his wife, Dottie, and him. Before sitting down, he gave his great friend, Irene Henrich, a hug.

She was the culprit of the party.

Henry met his friend a few years ago after getting into a little fender bender outside her house.

Officers asked Henrich to give Henry a ride home. She obliged.

"I told them that I would only take him home if they followed me to the house," she said, to "make sure he was OK."

She told Henry, "If you need help, call me."

Two days later, he called.

At the time, his wife was in a nursing home, and he asked for a ride to go visit her.

"We went every Saturday," Henrich said.

"Then to Whataburger."

They aren't peculiar about which restaurant they eat at - whatever is close - but the location on North Navarro Street is special.

Having coffee at Whataburger reminds Henry of the diner where he met his wife, he said.

It was in Hallettsville.

She was behind the counter, and he sent a sly note telling her not to steal nickels from the register.

But the two never dated.

Henry was home on leave.

"I was only in the worst battle in Marine Corps history," he said about his time in the battle of Iwo Jima, which ended in March 1945. Henry enlisted as a medic in the Navy, but because the Marine Corps did not have a medic, he also served with them.

"I wrote her," he said.

Henry was on that island 36 days, and when he returned to the base, 34 letters from his soon-to-be wife were waiting for him.

"I got home on a Saturday," Henry said, and "she called on a Sunday."

"When are you coming to Houston," she asked him.

Henry planned to take the train the next day. "I didn't make it," he said. "I didn't get up in time."

Instead, he caught a ride with his sister and her husband in a beat-up, old car. "We had to stop and put water in the radiator in every town from Cuero to Houston," he laughed.

"They dropped me off at the bus station, but I didn't know how to get a hold of her."

Dottie was a telephone operator, so Henry put a nickel in the closest pay phone and asked the operator to speak with her.

"She never did go back to work that night," he said.

They got married Nov. 24, 1945.

The two were married short of 67 years before she died.

Henry worked many jobs in the medical field and eventually retired with 11 years under his belt with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, serving as a deputy sheriff.

"It's funny," Henry said as a server filled his mug with coffee, "how these employees here get to know you."

"They just know me."

Lisa Hill, a four-year employee at Whataburger, says Henry is simply sweet.

"He is one of our regulars," she said. "We already know what he wants when he gets here."

Whataburger, no onions.

Coffee.

"I love it," Henry said.