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Published: Sunday, 4/6/2003

Carpenter spent free time as race-car driver

Harold H. Burnham, a carpenter and home builder whose lifelong pursuit of derring-do led to a 15-year stint as a stock and sprint car racer, died Thursday in his West Toledo home. He was 73.

He had lung cancer and congestive heart failure and was undergoing kidney dialysis, his wife, Laura, said.

Mr. Burnham retired in the late 1990s. He spent the last part of his career remodeling homes and installing windows and doors.

Whatever the income level of the homeowner, “he treated everybody the same,” said Mike Lukaszek, a great-nephew who worked with him for 14 years. “I've watched myself progress so much just being with him. He taught me to treat people with respect and do everything right the first time. He always said, `Don't cut a corner. If it needed extra, put it in. It'll come back to you.'”

Mr. Burnham left DeVilbiss High School to become a carpenter's apprentice, the first step in his career as a carpenter and contractor.

His business was the H.H. Burnham Co., and with his crew he put up homes for developers, primarily in what is now West Toledo.

“He did everything except plumbing and electrical,” his wife said.

He also built and sold several homes on his own.

Mr. Burnham was a post-World War II paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Beginning with his entry in a demolition derby around 1960, he spent his free time the next 15 years racing stock, sprint, and late-model cars at Toledo Speedway and tracks in Flat Rock, Mich., and Fremont. Race fans knew him as “Happy Harold.” Even when he got stuck in the mud or ran out of gas, he was smiling.

“There were no anniversary or birthday parties. It was racing Friday, Saturday, Sunday night,” his wife said. “Racing gets in your blood. That's excitement and taking risks.”

Later in life, he parachuted from an airplane and took a hot-air balloon ride.

“He didn't want to look back and wish he had done this or that,” his wife said.

A full-time retirement job was to deliver auto parts within a 200-mile radius of Toledo.

Surviving are his wife, Laura, whom he married May 21, 1971; sons, Don, Dick, and David Burnham and Steve Lucio; daughters, Kathy Akenberger, Elizabeth Von Striver, and Valerie Lucio; brothers, Cleighton, Elton, Ron, and Dale; sisters, Lila Bartel, Leona Wirick, and Cheryl Eddings; 14 grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.

The body will be in the Sujkowski Mortuary, Northpointe, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Glenwood Lutheran Church, where the family will receive friends after 9 a.m.

The family requests tributes to the Kidney Foundation, the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township, or the church.



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