Zephyrhills 100th Anniversary: Who is Dr. Henderson?

By Gregg, 15 February, 2010, 19 Comments

We had the distinct pleasure on Friday, August 28 to do an interview with Dr. Charles Henderson and his wife, Ann. This week our article is compiled by regular writers as well as guest contributors, Betty Hall, Raybelle Surratt and John Clements.

To capture the rich and extraordinary interchange of this inspirational hour is challenging for us to do because we felt the recollections were indicative of the character and values that were set in place for the school community by not only the inspirational leadership of Dr. Henderson but also the contributions of  others such as Betty, Raybelle, John and many others.

Who is Dr. Charles Henderson?

Dr. Charles Henderson was principal of Zephyrhills High School from 1955-57 and 1959-65

Dr. Charles Henderson was principal of Zephyrhills High School from 1955-57 and 1959-65

Chuck, as he is affectionately dubbed, was the ZHS Principal from 1955-57 and again from 1959-65. Appointed by Pasco Superintendent Mark St. Clair, he chuckled that he was recruited to the area because of his talented wife, Anne, a business teacher ‘who they wanted at PHS to start their DCT Vocational program’ (Ann was later principal of Buchholz High School in Gainesville for 11 years). After two years in Dade City as an Assistant Principal however, Mr. Henderson was recruited to be ZHS Principal. Serving eight years, Henderson was again recruited during 1964 to become principal of the University of Florida’s Laboratory School, P.K. Yonge. A ‘Gator’ through-and-through, he became a UF Professor and worked not only as the head of graduate studies in instruction/ curriculum but headed up the educational department at UF that launched the educational departments at FIU, UCF and UNF; he retired from UF in 1997. Charles was also the inaugural President of the Zephyrhills Rotary Club and extremely active in the community.

Three members of his faculty and staff of course were Betty Hall, librarian, John Clements, coach, and Raybelle Surratt, secretary.

What we discovered?

The decades of the 1950’s and 60’s were formative years for Zephyrhills and the schools.

Academics: Betty Hall said, “Mr. Henderson, you were the best!” As a new ‘librarian’ Mr. Henderson wanted her to have the very best preparation and allowed her to work with an experienced veteran in a neighboring town. She recalled that he worked diligently to find scholarships for students and spent a great deal of time advising students.  Betty had prepared for the interview by speaking with several former students from Henderson’s tenure and recalled that he made a real difference in their lives. Sandy Pricher shared that he had perfect posture and was a great role model!

Dedicated to students, Henderson said that one of his true regrets was leaving the class of 1965 to take on the UF position. He revered this particular class and shared with pride his pleasure when they visited him in Gainesville at the 65 state championship game. He said, “Linda Hayden, Bobby Winters, Diane Clements, Larry Chauncey and others came knocking on my door at P.K. Yonge Laboratory School and wanted to visit. I took them on a tour of the school and we talked about their senior year! That was a very special class to me.”

The entire group reminisced about outstanding musicians Johnny Gore, George Neukom, Linden Laviano and Bill Hamilton. They recalled that the foursome used to perform for the school assemblies. Sometimes they would have to tell George, “Don’t be too jazzy!” Both Henderson and Clements visited Johnny Gore in Branson, Mo., where he served as a professional musician and talked with great pride about his musical accomplishments.  Henderson acknowledged the teachings of John T.V. Clark in the music field at ZHS for inspiring many.

Sports were remarkable. ZHS achieved state basketball championship status in 1961-62 & 1963-64 and from 1960-1966, reached the Class B (equivalent to today’s 2A) state tournament every season except one. Henderson was principal during most of those years and undoubtedly his leadership created a climate that produced leaders! It is no wonder then that some of the interview turned to sports.

Henderson recalled the enthusiasm in the community. He remembered a game in which Jed Wilkerson’s mom shouted from the stands to her son, “Jed—Do something wonderful! Be beautiful!” In response to the outdoor basketball slab that the championship team played upon, he said, ‘well, we had a wind advantage.’

He and Gore reminisced about their first meeting with Raymond Stewart in 1960.  Ray was the head football coach of Palmetto High School and had a winning streak of 25 straight games. Worried over the anxiety of fans, ZHS orchestrated a caravan of alumni to the game to safely escort the team. Low and behold—the Bulldogs whipped Palmetto 6-0. They recalled that quarterback Norman Weaver and Sam Groves were in the game but they devised a new play, which they coined the ‘Chauncey Special Play’ to win the game.  Henderson and Clements both admitted that it took Stewart many years to totally come to terms with the incredible victory which was repeated the next year (same score).  Perhaps that is why Ray eventually moved to ZHS.

Dr. Charles Henderson within a student group in 1963

Dr. Charles Henderson within a student group in 1963

Office Anecdotes: Henderson said that both he and his wife were indebted to the school secretary, Raybelle Surratt. “She introduced us to the town,” they said.

Surratt affectionately responded with some great anecdotes.  “Do you remember the young man with the asthma attack in the office? We were so worried about him.” (They both went on to reminisce about this fellow—a prominent Zephyrhills businessman today who they wanted to share updates and pride about).

Then the 1960 Hurricane Donna was recounted by all. Raybelle related that ZHS was opened as a hurricane shelter and the lunchroom ladies were called in to prepare meals. Three clinics were set up in part because of the shelter residents at the school—three were “very pregnant ladies.” With the barometric pressure of the impending hurricane, labor was eminent.

Everyone decided it was in the best interest for Henderson to locate a doctor. Henderson recalled that he got in his 1950 Ford and ventured out in the midst of Hurricane Donna to fetch Dr. B.G. Wilkinson. (We wonder if anyone out there recalls this experience and who those three Hurricane Donna babies might be.)

Note: Donna was a destructive hurricane that hit on September 11, 1960 with record rainfall of ten inches, sustained winds at 128 mph, and landfall pressure of 27.46 inches.

Advice for the New Principal: To conclude our interview we wanted to ask this veteran educator to impart some advice to the new ZHS Principal, Steve Van Gordon, who we described to him as an industrious and focused young man.  Henderson said, “Be patient…being principal of ZHS is a hectic job.  Always be interested in your students and faculty. Communicate with them and hear their ideas. Be involved with the community and listen to input and ideas.”

He shared that youth was a real asset. He was 28 when becoming principal of ZHS and remembers it fondly. Henderson and his wife, Anne, send their fondest greetings to Zephyrhills.

As the phone call was concluding, we listened to the five friends signing off. They all agreed, “We have been blessed.” It seems to Clereen and me that we in the Zephyrhills community (who have benefitted from these mentors and leaders who have shaped our school and community) are the ones who have truly been blessed. We are thankful to each of them.

We are so eager to hear your recollections of Dr. Henderson.  Be sure to share them with us!

Countdown to Centennial

Countdown to Centennial
By Madonna Jervis Wise and Clereen Morrill Brunty of the 100th Anniversary Committee, ZHS. Article originally appeared in the Zephyrhills News on September 3, 2009.

All rights reserved. Photos © Madonna Jervis Wise

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