G.B. (JERRY) HENDERSON
G.B. Henderson, “Jerry” to his friends, was born on February 25, 1905, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and spent the early part of his life in Suffern, New York. His father, Alexander Dawson Henderson, was one of the founders of Avon Products, and Jerry, by the time he was 30, joined Avon’s board as a director, a position he held for 40 years.
In the late 1950s Jerry moved to Las Vegas. Long interested in science and technology, Jerry became an industrial pioneer, investing in what were then new, exotic industries like cable television and lasers. He was always looking for better ways to do things. In the 1960s he helped develop silent burglar alarms and motion and heat detection systems. He manufactured sailboats in Nevada to help the state diversify its economy away from tourism and gambling. He pioneered aquaculture, raising catfish and freshwater prawns in marine farms in South Carolina and Nevada. He supported research in hydroponics, the cultivation of plants in water instead of soil, and he experimented with underground irrigation, watering crops directly at their roots to conserve water in dry climates, a form or irrigation used today in Israel and Nevada.
In the 1960s, Jerry pioneered underground living as a cheaper and more efficient form of housing. He sponsored an exhibit of an underground home for the 1963-1964 World’s Fair in New York and also built and lived in underground homes in Las Vegas and Colorado.
Jerry supported research in harnessing geothermal energy in Wabuska, Nevada. Jerry wanted the capture the full potential of the earth’s internal heat. His project used water from hot springs to generate electricity and for heating hydroponic greenhouses. The outflow from the greenhouse and electric generator was collected and used for fish farms, desert irrigation, and waterfowl ponds.
Jerry was also interested in health. In the 1970s he established a nutrition clinic in Lafayette, Colorado. The clinic served the elderly and the obese and studied the link between diet and longevity.
Throughout his life, Jerry had a passion for aviation. He was one of the nation’s earliest pilots, earning his license in 1926. He was also one of the nation’s oldest helicopter pilots, earning his helicopter pilot’s license in his 70s. In 1978 Jerry’s love of flying spurred him to become chairman of Gulfstream American, the manufacturer of the world’s premier executive jet, the Gulfstream series. Jerry also established a fixed base operation at Jefferson County Airport in Broomfield, Colorado, and started an aeronautics school, Colorado Aerotech, there as well.
Jerry had a great love for the outdoors. In the 1950s he bought a 350-acre ranch at Stapps Lake, abutting the Roosevelt National Forest 10,000 feet high in the Colorado Rockies on the Continental Divide. In the latter part of the 19th century the ranch had been one of the nation’s first dude ranches. Teddy Roosevelt hunted and fished there as a guest of the Stapps brothers. The ranch had a lodge, several cabins, a couple of trout lakes, dirt roads, beaver ponds, snow banks that never melt, and acres of evergreens. Jerry spent his summers at the ranch. He built his first underground house there and he rode horseback, fished, and boated, but he never hunted, believing it to be too cruel a sport.
During the Second World War. Jerry and a group of Sea Scouts formed the Henderson Submarine Patrol. He and the scouts manned Jerry’s three-masted schooner, the Roosterfish, and patrolled the South Carolina coast for U-boats.
In 1957 Jerry endowed the Alexander Dawson Foundation, named for his father. In 1967, Jerry, through the foundation, established the Alexander Dawson School at Stapps Lake, Colorado. The school moved to its present site at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Lafayette, Colorado in 1970. The school originally educated youths from broken homes. “There’s no such thing as a bad kid. There are only bad parents,” Jerry would say, and he tried to give the students a second start in life. The school not only provided a good, basic high school education, it created for students a mini-society called the Colorado Junior Republic. Students or “citizens” as they were called, worked the Republic’s own farm, dairy, ranch, slaughterhouse, greenhouses, and print shop and were paid in the Republic’s own currency, which was convertible to U.S. dollars. Students with high grades were allowed to take flying lessons at the school’s airstrip. With its twin mottos, “Love of the Land” and “Nothing Without Labor”, the Republic taught its citizens self-reliance, self-respect and the value of hard work. When it came to spreading these ideas, Jerry always tried to persuade rather than impose. He was more a salesman than a preacher.
Jerry was known for his disarming wit. Once, a student, unhappy with the school’s prohibition against long hair for boys, complained to Jerry. “After all,” the student said, “Jesus Christ had long hair.” Jerry smiled and said, “Son, when you can walk on water, you can have long hair.”
In 1980 the school was converted to a coeducational, private college preparatory school. The school has since added a lower school and middle school and ended its boarding program. Currently the school serves 420 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Jerry was divorced and remarried. He had two daughters from his first marriage. He loved to play cards, especially poker, but whenever he played he never raised the stakes beyond the means of his friends.
Jerry was never a cynic. He believed in doing the right thing, and he believed it was possible to make a difference. He always said, “If your hands are clean and your cause is just, you cannot be denied.” Jerry died November 16, 1983, in Las Vegas, his home.