KCHS alumni plan honor for teacher

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

They came to watch Renee Henderson's jaw drop.

Former students, former bosses and colleagues, they came to Sunday's Kenai Central High School Choir Winter Concert for the fine music -- and something extra.

KCHS alumni are planning a special reunion and concert to honor Henderson for 30 years of music teaching. Dale Sandahl and Walt Ward Sr., retired administrators from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, announced the plan at the concert.

"It's been a special time since Renee came up here," Sandahl said. "Through the years Renee has achieved statewide acclaim, national recognition and international recognition for her efforts.

"Her success has come from more energy than I ever had."

Ward agreed and praised Henderson for her work in getting the KCHS auditorium built.

"Students of these students will be performing here long after Renee and I are long gone," he said, motioning to the choir behind him.

Henderson beamed at the announcement and words of praise, but other than "thank you," she did not have much to say. However, when she saw Sandahl and Ward come on stage unannounced, carrying the veiled sign, she said, "I get scared when I see these two."

"Everyone who has ever gone through her classes loves and adores this woman," said Woody McCubbins, KCHS Class of 1985 and behind-the-scenes mastermind of the surprise.

"A group of us got together and were talking about doing something special for her. We decided to do an alumni concert she doesn't know about," he said last week.

The alumni have been working behind Henderson's back for months, including a "secret" information site on the Internet, and reached the point where they had to let her in on the deal, he said.

They already have booked the KCHS auditorium for June 2 to hold the concert and have arranged for the Class of 1981 to align its 20th reunion with the event, he said.

Some former students are professional musicians, thanks in large part to her inspiration, McCubbins said.

He expects about 2,000 people to attend the event, which is being planned like a convention. Tentative plans are for three days of socializing and rehearsing, culminating with the concert.

People can follow the planning details and help trace old friends via the reunion Web site, which is now public, at www.ptialaska. net/~baileyc/reunion.

"We think it is probably going to be one of the biggest events to hit Kenai," McCubbins said.

Henderson was a farm girl from South Dakota who loved music and wanted to make a difference in people's lives, he said. Sandahl, then principal, hired her to teach choir at KCHS three decades ago.

In the years since, she worked to get the school's auditorium built, promoted music in the community and led students on memorable trips abroad. When students came up short of money for the tickets, she often contributed out of her own pocket, McCubbins said.

He praised the level of her teaching as amazingly high and called the KCHS choir the best in the state.

"She has got this way about her. Everyone wants to do their best for her because of the way she is," he said.

"We have literally gone internationally and won top prizes performing competitively against the world's best."

Henderson has made a huge difference in students' lives, instilling them with an appreciation for music and motivation to develop their own talents, he said. In the years since graduation, many others have come to realize how special she is and what a vital and positive role she plays, he said.

"I think it is because of her genuine, heartfelt love for students as human beings," he said.

Clarion reporter Jay Barrett contributed to this story.

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