Celebrating forty-three years!

Current Kenai Central High School students filled the Renee C. Henderson auditorium risers, in readiness to begin the 43rd Pops Concert, on May 6, 2014. Most people in the audience knew something special was planned, so when Dale Sandahl took to the stage, anticipation built. It's not every day, or every year, or every decade that a community celebrates an educator with a forty-three year career in the same school district. More like, it's rarely ever, so this night was special! Sandahl was present to commandeer the start of the evening as surprise emcee, and present on behalf of the Honorable Governor of the State of Alaska Sean Parnell. He called Renee to the bottom step of the risers, sat her down, and began to tell a story that began forty-three years prior when he hired Renee to work in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Following the funny and tender reflection, KCHS Principal Fields spoke, presenting Henderson with a cap and gown as she graduates into retirement, followed by KPBSD Superintendent Atwater, Ms. Kim Howard on behalf of the Honorable Senators Begich and Murkowski, and Ms. Pat Porter, City of Kenai Mayor who presented Henderson with one of only four keys to the city.

"It is my pleasure to come before you this evening on behalf of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to recognize Ms. Renee Henderson," said Dr. Steve Atwater. "For the past 43 years Renee has given to the students of Kenai, and this evening is our chance to stop for a minute … or two ... or three to show how much we appreciate her and all that she has done for KCHS, our school district, and the community of Kenai.

Six years ago when I first arrived in the district, I saw this auditorium's name and asked someone at district office, "Who is Renee Henderson?" I assumed that she was a great figure from Kenai past. The response, "She's a teacher." Not fully hearing what was said, I asked, "But when did she retire?" I was corrected and told, "She is still teaching." So I thought to myself, "Hmmm this lady must be pretty special."

But it was not until I saw my first KCHS Choir concert that I began to understand why Renee is so important. That evening when all of her students assembled I quickly recognized that the KCHS choir is one of the more unifying pieces to this high school and likely in the Kenai community. I saw all types of students on the stage proudly wearing the traditional choir robes and not for one minute showing the least bit of concern for whether it was cool to sing in a choir. As you know, this is not always the case with sixteen year old boys. By my third concert I understood the KCHS choir is for all students. I still marvel at seeing some pretty tough looking guys singing—this convinced me that Renee's choir program is special.

Our data person at the district office ran the numbers for Renee and we discovered that during the past 43 years, Renee has taught more than 13,000 students. That's a lot of report cards, and doesn't include teaching in elementary schools which would likely bump the number to around 17,000! Sticking with math, if you stop and figure that her first students are now in their 50s or even 60 years old, it is probable that one of today's students who will sing tonight is a grandchild of one of these first students. This is extraordinary and likely will not happen again.

In our school district one of the signs of honor is being recognized by your first name. I know that by simply mentioning Renee did this or Renee did that will only cause you to think about one person: Renee Henderson.

The name of this auditorium notwithstanding, Renee will be remembered for a long time as the person who put KCHS choir on the map. Renee, on behalf of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education and all the employees of our school district, you will be greatly missed. I wish you the very best with your retirement."

The evening continued with alumni singing We Are the World, and current students sharing their music selections.

Please join KPBSD in giving thanks and appreciation for the phenomenal contribution Renee C. Henderson made in the lives of thousands of families and individual students. The legacy created with her first yes to Dale Sandahl, together with the ripple effect that has continued for forty-three years, will continue in the lives and hearts of her students and the community. For your red pumps, and your yes!, we say, thank you Renee...