Irene Grabau was always the younger sister to Nick, Mike and Helen Hennenfent. She was also the fun-loving aunt with a twinkle in her eye who thought that ice cream might be a good idea for no reason at all. She believed her young nieces and nephews should be outside on summer evenings catching fire flies on the big, gently sloping lawn in front of the big, old farm house where Grandma and Grandpa Hennenfent lived northwest of Roseville. Putting the fireflies in a canning jar with holes poked in the lid so you could watch them before they flew away again was magical - like holding fireworks in your hands.
Irene loved kids. She perpetually had a smile for them. It didn’t matter what personal storm you might be experiencing; she had shelter for you without judgment. She knew how to listen.
Irene was determined to make her own way in the world and she did. After living at home and working in Monmouth for a few years, she moved to Rock Island where she became a beautician. When she came home to visit at the farm, she would sometimes call a niece to come for a sleepover, a manicure and a session of beauty tips.
After she developed physical problems related to her work as a beautician, she took a job with the City of Rock Island as an administrative assistant, the job from which she retired.
While living in Rock Island, Irene met and married Dale Grabau. They were married on February 7, 1970. Dale and Irene were a fashionable couple. They liked to go dancing and be with people. They were the kind of people that you liked to have at your party. They talked to everyone and made everyone feel comfortable. Irene had a knack for making each person to whom she talked feel special.
Irene was especially fond of her nieces, Nancy, Cindy, Mary and everyone’s favorite cousin, Jane. Irene never thought there was anything wrong with the girls sticking together and having some fun on their own in the midst of “all those boys”.
If you were ever in the Quad Cities, there was a standing invitation for you to stop by. There might be tea, chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies or you could just sit and chat. If you were a kid, you could bring your friends over and play pool in the basement.
Irene had an infectious laugh and she was consistently in a good mood. Many is the time at a family gathering when she could be heard laughing in the kitchen at the farm house with her siblings, a group that had an endless supply of stories about the depression, the one room school house, growing up on the farm and coming of age in and around Monmouth and Roseville.
After Dale died on March 25, 2014, Irene moved back to Monmouth.
Prior to Dale’s death, Irene suffered from back problems, a condition that worsened over time and affected her posture. Even after developing this debilitating condition which ravaged her body and gave her savage pain, Irene would perk up and grin when you came around.
“Well,” she would say as she lifted her head and smiled, “how are you? Tell me what’s going on with you.”
She was no less patient and kind or just glad to see you during those trying times than she had been on the first day that you met her all those years ago.
Irene, a kind and sincere person, was the daughter of Frances E. and Mary Lorretto Hennenfent. She is survived by her sister, Helen L. Gillen and her brother Michael R. Hennenfent as well as nieces, Mary and Jane Henenfent, Nancy Cruse and Cindy Ricketts and nephews, David, Raymond and Dick Gillen and Mike, John, Bill, George, Frank, Nick, Brad and Steve Hennenfent. Her parents and her brother, Nick, died before her. She was also step-mother to Scott, Brian, Jeffrey N. and Douglas Grabau and step-grandmother to Jeffrey A., Kimberly and Anthony Grabau. Douglas Grabau also died before her. She is survived by Dale’s sister, Dalene Boltz.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, no services are being held at this time. A celebration of Irene’s life and good memories will be held at a later date. The designation for memorials will be made at that time. Turnbull Funeral Home of Monmouth was in charge of arrangements.
Her family is dismayed that Irene had to spend her final days in isolation, but takes comfort that she is at peace. Irene was born during a snowstorm on March 12, 1932. She died in the early morning hours of Monday, August 17, 2020, during a pandemic, and was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois, next to Dale, on a gently sloping section of the cemetery that reminds one of that big, gently sloping yard that leads to Grandpa and Grandma Hennenfent’s big, old farm house in the country.
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