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H.C. Henderson Jr. and the love of his life, the late Alice Faye Henderson, are the 2011 Citizens of the Year chosen by the Greater Chiefland Area Chamber of Commerce.
"This is such a special moment in my life," Henderson said in accepting the award. He thanked the Chamber for including his late wife, who died about seven months ago.
It's Henderson's second honor. In January he was named 2012 Alumni of the Year for the Levy County Schools Foundation, a group that provides scholarships to high school graduates and teaching grants that he helped to start in 1989.
The 73-year-old founder of Levy County Abstract & Title Co. was tricked into attending the Chamber's annual banquet by his son Skipper. The younger Henderson told his father he needed to attend to support a friend who was named the winner.
The friend, Luther Beauchamp, was the night's guest speaker telling the 125 business members that they should find humor in their jobs and would find that it increased their bottom line.
He also told the tale of how he and former law partner Joe Smith handled a complicated land deal for a client that resulted in them signing away the land where their law office stood in Bronson. "It was H.C. (Henderson) who discovered it while checking some books," Beauchamp said.
When it came time to laud Henderson, Smith — now a retired Levy County judge — almost roasted Henderson recounting their first plane trip to New York City, how he built the "premier" land title business in Levy County before turning it over to sons Skipper and Adam," with the close supervision by daddy," and became a Hall of Fame fox hunter while catching naps in church.
On a more serious note, Smith said Henderson was a dyed in the wool, born and bred Chiefland Indian. "He's a Chieflandite to the Nth degree," Smith told the crowd. "For 70-some years he has lived in Chiefland." Henderson's later retorted: "Chiefland has been good to me. I remember Chiefland in the golden years of the '50s."
Smith and, later Henderson himself, recounted how he grew up in one of three white rental homes in the area behind Big John's on Main Street. In one of the neighboring homes was a girl named Alice Faye. "I had the privilege of dating and marrying my high school sweetheart," Henderson said. He remembered how as a child he had iron skates that clipped onto shoes that he used to go up and down Chiefland's first paved streets.
"He came from humble beginnings," Smith said. "He was frugal, can you say s-t-i-n-g-y, sometimes to a fault. "
Smith told how Alice Faye Henderson cleaned the title offices, kept the hedges clipped and did other office work. Over lunch one day while hearing a tale of tight times with money, Smith said Mrs. Henderson should be getting paid for all that work. "I looked over at H.C. and his face was just white," Smith crowed. "From that moment on Alice Faye received a paycheck."
Smith praised his friend for leading "a principled life," serving as deacon in the Chiefland Church of Christ and for serving on the Chiefland City Commission and the Chiefland Planning Commission.
Henderson recalled how he was so worried as the city planners got ready to hold a public hearing on the city's first planning and zoning ordinance. He said he had prepared a speech. "I worried more and more who was going to show up and throw rocks at us," he said.
Only one person showed, so Henderson gave his speech. Afterwards the man had only one question: Would the ordinance make his taxes go up?
In addition to his civic activism, Henderson and his wife worked on the restoration of their alma mater, Chiefland High School. Henderson said it was his wife who got him involved in the project. "Faye did like going to school," he said.
As he concluded he gave his late wife due credit.
"I found a good thing when I found my Faye," he said. "I probably would not be here tonight if not for my Faye."