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City Clerk Barbara Henson, who will retire at the end of the month after 24 years of service to the city, was completely taken aback on Tuesday evening when she walked casually into the community center.
The usually plain room had been transformed with flowers and trees decorated with tiny lights and nicely arranged long tables for the guests to enjoy the sumptuous buffet. And guests there were: city hall staff, who’d arranged the celebration; Henson’s entire family, grandchildren included; the mayor and city council members; former city employees; members of the police department and many old friends.
Everyone was there to honor “Miss Barbara,” who has been the one constant in the ever-changing landscape of city government.
After everyone had partaken of the delicious food, the “formal” part of the program began. City staff had assembled a power-point presentation of pictures of Henson over the years. It brought laughter and many groans from others included in the photos, but all seemed to enjoy the look back.
Crystal Curl, the evening’s emcee, presented Henson with a large personalized fringe throw on which is pictured an Adirondack chair overlooking a serene lake.
Curl then asked for contributions from anyone in the audience and many people had something to offer.
City finance director Mark Schiefer said that, over the five years he’s been associated with the city, he and Henson have become true friends. He said that each had found in the other someone with whom they could raise their voices and work out problems.
Mayor R. Gerald Hethcoat, who’s been involved in city government at least as long as Henson has, said that it certainly didn’t seem like 24 years and wished Henson the best in her retirement years.
Larry Davis, a strapping, bearded man in camouflage Bermuda shorts, introduced himself as Henson’s twin brother, though the resemblance wasn’t evident to all.
He spoke first of his mother, who passed away within the past year, and said that “Mama” would never be gone as long as Barbara was around. He spoke too of their mother’s great pride in Henson’s achievements. Continuing in his somber tone, Davis asked for the assemblage’s prayers for Henson’s husband, Ezra, who, he said, now would have to “put up” with Barbara because she’d no longer have to go to city hall. Laughter erupted, just as he’d intended.
Council president Debra Jones echoed a point originally raised by Schiefer, saying that Henson is “our archives,” that she relished the history of the city. She also thanked Henson for contributing her lovely voice to celebrations in the city, especially the Independence Day celebrations.
Tracie OSteen, a member of the front office staff, recalled being hired in 2001 and having a friend tell her, “I guess you’re working for Hawkeye Henson.”
Finally, Henson took the microphone. She thanked everyone she’d worked with over the years, including the city council. She especially cited Sylvia Lanier, the former city clerk, who’d had the confidence in her to recommend her for the job when Lanier retired.
She spoke fondly of her husband Ezra, who, on a morning when she was not in the best of moods, told her he was “going to call ‘em [at city hall] and warn ‘em that you’re coming.”