Family members, former students and co-workers turned out Saturday for a surprise toast to Bob Henderson, 93, a community benefactor, hobby farmer, and former high school science and math teacher who served eight years as Haines Borough Mayor.
Henderson has donated his 14-acre Comstock Road property to the Haines-based American Bald Eagle Foundation. Saturday’s reception at the foundation’s headquarters was hosted by Steve McPhetres, former superintendent of Haines Borough schools.
As science teacher, Henderson required students use proper English grammar in their papers. “An integrated curriculum is the term they use to describe that now, but back then it was just good teaching,” McPhetres said.
Lonny Heiner was a high school science student in Petersburg, where Henderson taught before coming to Haines. Heiner and classmate Lois Rhodes said Henderson was the “teacher of the century” who donated thousands of hours of time to his students, and created new classes so students could advance in their abilities.
“He inspired us to embrace that math and science were fun, and that high school was a stepping stone to college and a better life,” Heiner said.
Former Haines Borough mayor Jan Hill said she didn’t fare well in Henderson’s science classes, but she learned how to study hard and take notes well and those skills kept her in good stead when she went off to college.
Henderson appeared surprised and encouraged by the testimony. He said he had made mistakes in his life, and that he was pleased to hear he had inspired others. “I am so happy to hear that I really did what I was trying to do,” he told the crowd of about 100.
Judy Heinmiller, a 1973 Haines High School graduate, said she remembered “Hendo” waving branches of a local tree in a student’s face and making him identify it – by its Latin name. “He would hit us with it. He was not warm and fuzzy at all. He was great, though. He made a difference in your life. In my freshman biology class at Oregon State (University), there was nothing new. I was so bored.”
Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott, who once worked under Henderson at the borough office, noted that he served as the borough’s first Mayor and was instrumental in establishing its permanent fund. She read a proclamation designating the date as “Robert Henderson Appreciation Day.” “Bob has worked tirelessly to make Haines a better community to live in,” she said.
Henderson’s children Tom Henderson of Ketchikan, Barbara Cave of Cordova and Kathy Crenshaw of Juneau attended the event.