The many lives touched by Bob Henigson | Guest column

by Barbara Kline

Superintendent, Orcas Island School District

It has taken me a while to organize my thoughts enough to write this letter about Bob Henigson.

In thinking about him, I have come to realize that there are very few, if any, students in our school who have not been touched by Bob’s generosity and vision for our students here on Orcas.

I refer to his vision for students because Bob and I rarely spoke about his vision for the schools; it was always about what would benefit the students and how opportunities for learning could be provided to the students.

His vision expanded the universe of learning opportunities available to our students.  Bob’s generous grant through the Funhouse for online classes was intended to enrich our student’s academic options.  Thanks to him, our students have taken Japanese, Chinese, French, Arabic, German and various arts, sciences and other classes that we cannot offer in a small district. Even before online classes were a reality, our students were taking Advanced Placement classes partially supported by the OICF Academic Enrichment Fund, which Bob helped to establish.

Bob said that he got “more bang for the buck”  by investing in the education of young children and putting money into early elementary education and preschool.  Starting them off right, setting them up to do well right from the beginning, avoiding years of remedial work later and producing a better return on investment.

Therefore about seven years ago, thanks to Bob, we started offering all day kindergarten instead of the half day program that is funded by the state. This was in addition to the other programs for early learning that Bob sponsored in local preschools.  Kindergarten through eighth grade Spanish for our students began with a Bob Henigson grant. This vision was not only to introduce all of our students to the Spanish language but also to provide some shared language between our native English speakers and our growing population of native Spanish speaking students.

Last year at the Celebration of Success where the seniors receive scholarships from the community, Bob spoke about the scholarship he offered through the Funhouse.  He explained that he really wanted to give a scholarship to every single student but someone told him it would be too expensive. I am sure that I heard him say that he thought about figuring out how to do it anyway. Or maybe I just heard him say that in my head because I believe that is how he thought. I know that I heard him increase the amount of the scholarship that he was giving out that morning, just by changing the numbers around as he spoke.

Once I understood that Bob appeared to delight in intense discussions with lots of questioning and even some disagreement, I enjoyed participating in these conversations with him.

He had more than a few thoughts about the issues and roadblocks and potential solutions to providing an excellent public education in today’s world. While he was always sympathetic about the amount of government nonsense that we are expected to comply with, he was also always certain to say that we needed to find a way around it and get the work done anyway.

Bob was an amazing donor.  More importantly he was an amazing person, with a big heart and a vision of all students getting what they needed to be successful. I will miss the donor and I will miss the person.  I will miss the hardheaded businessman and the warmhearted visionary. Long may he live in our memories.