G.B. (JERRY) HENDERSON
Jerry Henderson and Harry Truman had one thing in common. They
liked to play poker, and they used poker as a way to take the measure of
a person. The trustees
haven’t given Karen, John, and Greg Jerry’s poker test, mainly
because we’re so rusty we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves.
The Alexander Dawson School is the product of three decades of evolution, design, redesign, vision, revision, building, and rebuilding. It is also the product of one man’s life. People ask me, “What was Mr. Henderson like?” The best answer I can give is, “Look around you.” This school, its values, its ideals, is a reflection of Jerry Henderson.
At Dawson, every student is precious. To Jerry, every child was precious. No one should fall by the wayside. He often said, “There are no delinquent kids, just delinquent parents.” Thirty years ago Jerry founded this school as the Colorado Junior Republic to help kids who needed a second chance. To help them become good citizens and contribute to society. Jerry wanted to foster the whole child and develop in students self-respect and self-sufficiency. He believed that if children are given responsibility, are made accountable for their actions, and are surrounded by adults who truly care about them, they will thrive.
Jerry believed that work was a source of pride and gave meaning to life, that there was Nothing Without Labor. He was thankful for Nature’s bounty and for the freedom won for us by the sacrifice of patriots and so was always demonstrating his Love of the Land.
A phrase one often hears nowadays in education is “lifelong learner”. That was Jerry. Jerry was forever a student. He learned to fly a helicopter in his 70s. He didn’t have many passengers, but he still flew. He was also past 70 when he started learning to play the organ. Jerry read constantly and was especially interested in science and technology. He would have especially relished a conversation with our guest, Dr. Cech. When a new subject struck his fancy, such as cable television, lasers, hydroponic farming, or jet aviation, he learned as much as could, sought those who were willing to teach him, and started a company.
At Dawson we talk about experiential education. Learn by doing. That’s what Jerry did. When Jerry, he was in his fifties, wanted to learn about electronics he got a job in the workshop of an inventor by offering to sweep the floors for free. Then, when he learned what he wanted to know, he started his own electronics company and hired his boss.
Jerry wasn’t afraid to try new things, even though he wasn’t an expert. He would find out for himself and very often came up with ways of doing things and looking at things that others had never thought of. Jerry’s approach to learning was practical and based on common sense. He was not dissuaded by those who would say, “It’s too difficult,” or, “It’s not done that way.” He was willing to try. If it worked, great. If not, at least we learned something.
Above all, Jerry was an optimist. He looked for the positive in life and for the good in people. He would often say, “If your hands are clean, your cause is just, and your request is reasonable, you cannot be denied.”
Perhaps because of his great optimism Jerry loved to sing. So it is fitting that we will celebrate our anniversary with this fine Colorado Children’s Chorale. Jerry had a fine voice and was happiest when he was singing. He often said, “If you’re singing you’re not complaining.”
Today we are celebrating the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Alexander Dawson School. Next week, we will celebrate the Dedication of The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain in Las Vegas. One school is continuing what was begun thirty years ago; the other is starting its journey. None of us can predict what lies ahead, but there’s nothing to fear. Jerry believed that it’s all right to start out without knowing all the answers ahead of time. You’ll find them along the way.
Jerry is gone now. But those of us who knew him and worked with him - Don Brown, our longest serving trustee, John Hartley, Harley Harmon, Tom Collins, Walt Sarad, Farrow Smith, Oz Gutsche, John O’Brien, Joe Borini, and I, who saw this school when it was started thirty ago and who have stood by the school ever since - we’re still here, and we can tell you that he would be proud of this legacy, and he would thank you, alumni, parents, faculty, and, above all, students, for keeping his spirit alive.