2016 Honoree

2016 Gurnee Days Honoree Is Donald Henderson

The Gurnee Days Corporation is pleased to announce Donald Henderson has been chosen as the 2016 Gurnee Days Honoree. For 44 years, the Gurnee Days Corporation has selected a deserving individual or couple to be honored during the annual Gurnee Days celebration. The testimonial dinner honoring Don will be held on Thursday, August 11 and traditionally kicks off the annual Gurnee Days festivities.

Don was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He is the son of John and Florence Henderson and has two siblings, John and Mary. Don graduated from Waukegan Township High School in 1948 and began working in his father’s construction company after graduation as an apprentice carpenter. One of his first hobbies was building an 18 foot racing runabout in his parents’ garage over the winter. Don bought the plans from Mechanics Illustrated magazine and thoroughly enjoyed the project and it was a confidence builder.

Marilyn Fiedler, his high school sweetheart, became a student nurse at Augustana Hospital in Chicago. They were to be married after she graduated. His father gave him a lot on West Street in Gurnee as a pre-wedding present. Don built a small house with no bedrooms ready about a week before their February 1952 wedding. In December, they were expecting their first child and Don added a two bedroom addition to the house. A week before the birth, they found out it would be twins, Rick and Ron. Sixteen months later, Mike was born and twenty-eight months after that, Tom was born. A larger house was built on O’Plaine Road and in 1962 they built their current house on Norman Lane in Gurnee and moved in after their fifth son David was born.

The Henderson family liked traveling, camping and boating. In 1966, they spent five weeks traveling to California and visiting the beautiful National Parks. They thought the boys would love seeing the mountains but that thrill only lasted a few minutes. But Disneyland was the big highlight on the trip.

In 1965, Don’s Dad moved J.J.Henderson & Son to Gurnee and bought and remodeled the building on Old Grand Avenue where it still stands today. His father died in 1971 and Don continued the business building many projects throughout the area. In Gurnee, they built many landmarks including the Fire Station on Old Grand Avenue, the Village Hall on O’Plaine Road, a water plant on Cemetery Road, and the North Shore Sanitary District. In 1985, he started the Greenleaf Center. Don said “Gurnee had just over 500 welcoming people when I came here and it has continued to be a wonderful place to live and work”.

Retiring from the construction business in 1994 and managing Greenleaf Center in 2000, Don was also involved with numerous related organizations. He served as President of the Lake County Contractors Association, board member of the First Federal Savings and Loan in Waukegan, trustee on the Laborers Training Fund and board member of the Construction Industry Service Corporation.

Unfortunately, Don’s wife Marilyn contracted hepatitis C during a blood transfusion in 1982 but the disease was unknown at the time and wasn’t diagnosed until 1997 and she received a liver transplant in January 2000 that failed and another in July 2000. During her second surgery, she developed an incurable brain infection and she passed away in November of that year.

Don started dating Judy Hood in 2003. They knew each other from Bethel Church. Judy’s husband Tom Hood passed away from a heart attack in 1996. They were happy to have found each other and were married in May of 2004. Between them, they have 8 children, 24 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. They love to travel and have taken 3 trips to Europe, 2 to Hawaii and many others in 48 states.

Don was a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Waukegan, when discussions began about starting a Lutheran Church in Gurnee. In 1966, Bethel Lutheran was created and Don was one of the charter members. He was the chairman of the building committee and oversaw the construction of the original building on the corner of Grand and Fuller. Over the years, Don served in many capacities including Congregational President and Chairman of Property Management. In addition to the formal church positions, Don was always a willing helper on any project. While still a member of Bethel, Don and Judy worship at the Village Church of Gurnee.

One of their family goals is to help others when they can. They went on a mission trip with the Village Church of Gurnee to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Also, there have been many mission projects around Lake County. Members of the church and others have worked with Christian Outreach of Lutherans (C.O.O.L.) to remodel houses for their transitional housing program as well as remodeling a building in Waukegan to provide a new, larger food pantry. Don has repeatedly demonstrated his dedication and commitment to helping feed the hungry and house the homeless of Lake County. As Village Church of Gurnee Pastor Brandon Smith said, “Mr. Henderson has worshipped at this Church for many years and is described as a kind hearted man in a very unassuming way. Always smiling and willing to help with anything without calling attention to himself is the best way to describe him.”

Over the years, Don has presented the Gurnee Fire Department with a donation to be used toward a life safety device, training equipment, public education programs and emergency medical/paramedic equipment. As Chief Fred Friedl said, “Mr. Henderson continued support to the Gurnee Fire Department has significantly improved the safety of our firefighters and citizens.”

Also, Don has provided the Gurnee Police Department with his support. Don’s clear desire to serve and do what he can to help is evident. He has expressed an interest in new technology for the police department and with his assistance he has helped fund some police department technological advancements.

While researching the history of the Warren Newport Public Library, Noreen Reese found “Mr. Henderson donated the materials and time to build the circulation desk and when they underwent remodeling he came in and did it again. He has been a long time donor and supporter of the library and introduced others to assure the ongoing viability of the library, a true pillar of the community.”

Recently, Don has helped create the Gurnee Teacher of the Year program in the all the area schools. He is the heart behind the annual celebration of teaching excellence in Gurnee. “We are appreciative of his support and respect for public education. It is evident that Mr. Henderson understood the key role schools play in a community and we are grateful for his generosity” said Woodland District 50 Superintendent Joy Swoboda.

Don established the Henderson Foundation as a continuing source of support to meet the needs and serve the interests of his Gurnee community. The Foundation provides annual nursing scholarships at the College of Lake County and Rush University as well as supports many local public and private community based organizations. His legacy will live on and the community has been strengthened by his vision, dedication and commitment to all.

“Mr. Henderson is truly an unsung hero for Gurnee. He sees a need in the community and quietly without any fanfare takes care of it or fixes it. He has had an incredible impact on the quality of life in our area and most people are not aware of his immense contributions. Mr. Henderson epitomes what makes Gurnee great – a servant’s heart,” stated Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik.

Each year, the Gurnee Days Corporation seeks nominations from the community for people who have made a meaningful contribution to make this area a better place to work and live. Gurnee Days Corporation is pleased to have such a dedicated person as Don Henderson as the 2016 Gurnee Days Honoree and Parade Marshall.


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