Henry Rudnicki

Obituary of Henry Rudnicki

Henry “Hank” Rudnicki, a high-speed movie photographer who worked on projects that ranged from rocket-engine testing to hydrogen fuel-cell cars, died surrounded by his family on Wednesday, May 2, at his Santa Cruz home. He was 92.


Hank was born in Youngstown, Ohio, joined the Marines at 17 and rose to the rank of sergeant. He served as a photographer in WWII and was called back to active duty for the Korean Conflict.


He married the love of his life, Karine Clavier, in 1951 and had three daughters, encouraging each of them to ignore gender stereotypes. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, kid,” he always said.


A pioneer in the field of high-speed motion picture technology, he worked under famed aerospace engineer Werner von Braun documenting rocket-engine tests in order to help engineers understand why the early engines kept exploding. He also worked in the defense industry and at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) where engineers with Ph.Ds. came to respect the innovations of a man with only a high-school education.


Hank was creative, energetic and full of ideas. He believed that his life was a series of miracles that came from God, including narrowly escaping having his leg cut off while hopping a freight train, surviving two fuel-tank explosions and a brush with a 500-pound bomb, having a seatbelt fail as he leaned out of a helicopter on a filming expedition, and just happening to spot an old captain friend who got him reassigned minutes before he was to be sent off to lead 40 “boots” into combat, a task for which he knew he had no training and certainly would have led to the deaths of his men.


He was a man of integrity, a talented oil painter, a master carpenter, a golfer who never kept score, and an adventurous traveler who twice drove his family in a VW van through Mexico. Later, he and his wife, Karine, spent several months each year volunteering at a center for Navajo foster children in Gallup, N.M.


He loved his family and adored his wife of 65 years, who died in 2016. He had many friends.


His brother, Edmund Rudnicki of Youngstown, Ohio; daughters and sons-in-law, Peggy and Jamie Townsend and Regina and Chris Donohoe, and Mary Orr; his grandchildren, Cody Townsend and his wife Elyse Saugstad, Garren Orr, and Jack Donohoe, survive him.


A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 10, at Resurrection Catholic Church, 7600 Soquel Drive, Aptos, followed by committal services at Holy Cross Cemetery and a luncheon at the home of Regina, Chris and Jack Donohoe.


In lieu of flowers, contributions are preferred to Resurrection Church Homeless Ministries at 7600 Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA 95003.