Ann Henry reflected on her life in her comfortable living room in Twisp. Photo by Karen West
Full Days, Full Life
Ann Henry is a self-possessed, outdoors loving woman who quietly goes about living a very full life. Reflecting on 81 years of personal accomplishment, adventure and adversity in the comfort of her Twisp living room, she distilled her life into one sentence: “I’ve had a very interesting life and I’m glad I lived in the Methow where there were so many opportunities.”
Henry’s weekly schedule helps explain what she means by “many opportunities.”
Mondays she reads with second graders at Methow Valley Elementary School. Every other week she also plays bridge. Tuesdays, as she has for at least 20 years, she hikes or snowshoes with a group of friends. Wednesday is her day to ski – usually cross-country but if the conditions are really good, you might find her at the Loup, where she taught skiing and once ran the ski school. Thursday mornings she volunteers at The Cove food bank. Friday is an open day although she is on call to substitute if the Friday bridge club needs her. Saturday she works at the Recycling Center. Sunday you’ll likely find her at the Methow Valley United Methodist Church, where she is on the finance committee.
Henry is on the boards of Classroom in Bloom, where she also works in the garden, and the Methow Valley Education Foundation, which provides scholarships for local students of all ages.
She is a former Room One board member who continues to do committee work. Ditto the Methow Conservancy. And about once a month you’ll find her volunteering at the Confluence Gallery. She also belongs to one of the valley’s original book clubs and often works the concessions at special events.
Why does she undertake so much volunteer work? “I guess just because I’m interested in things…I like to be involved in the community,” she replied. “I think in a small community it’s really important to have a good volunteer group” so a few people don’t have to do everything and burn out. “There used to be about five of us who did everything. You got awfully tired, awfully fast.”
Volunteering also is one way she keeps in touch with what’s going on. “I’m not a small talk enthusiast,” she said. “I like to have something to talk about.” And if she doesn’t have something to say, Henry simply keeps quiet. “I’m not the kind who says, ‘Drop by for a cup of coffee,’ and I don’t drop in on people to visit.”
Henry enjoys time alone, too, and doesn’t mind solitary hikes and ski outings. “It’s nice to have somebody along, but it’s not necessary,” she said.
Ann Henry is on the board of Classroom in Bloom, the program that teaches local school students how to grow food. She also works in the garden. Here she helps harvest garlic. Photo by Karen West
The Doctor's Wife
Henry said she had to develop her own life because her late husband, Dr. William J. Henry, who practiced medicine in Twisp for 30 years, “was so busy he didn’t miss me.”
Never mind that she was raising five children while he treated the residents of a rural valley and started an ambulance service, the forerunner of today’s Aero Methow Rescue Service, and the statewide Emergency Medical Technician program. (The Henry’s daughter, Cindy Button, who shared her dad’s love of emergency medicine, now runs Aero Methow.)
A native of New York, Henry met her future husband at the University of Pittsburgh when she was a freshman and he a senior. They were married in 1953, a week after he graduated. They came west on their honeymoon and fell in love with the mountains.
As soon as “Doc Henry” finished a one-year internship he joined the Navy. This was during the Korean War “doctor draft,” she explained. They were stationed in Pensacola, Florida, and then in Kodiak, Alaska, for more than two years before being transferred to Oak Harbor, Wash. While there, “Bill decided to get out of the Navy,” and they heard about an opening for a doctor in Twisp.
“We had two friends [in Eastern Washington] – a dentist in Chelan and a doctor in Omak – who’d been in the Navy with us,” she said. “We came in November, probably the worst time to look at Twisp.” However, the Henrys and the first three of their five children arrived to stay on July 4, 1960. The family lived in a yellow house that still stands on Glover Street. Doc Henry had his small office where The Cove is located today.
One of the first things Ann Henry did was start a kindergarten at her house because there wasn’t one for her eldest daughter. Teaching would become an ongoing part of her life. For 14 years, she taught office administration classes at Wenatchee Valley College in Omak. “Everything I used to teach is obsolete now,” she said, laughing. “I had a lot of returning [to the workforce] women who wanted to improve their skills and get a job.” She taught typing, business English, accounting and records management, among other subjects.
She has an undergraduate degree in office administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and while raising her family, earned a master’s degree from Fort Wright College in education and counseling.
For a number of years, she and Dorothy Evans, who lives outside Winthrop, led a troop of Campfire Girls. Henry also taught Sunday school, was active in scouting and was the coordinating leader for 4-H when her children were young.
An avid outdoorswoman, this photograph of Ann and her daughter, Cindy, was taken on a mother-daughter hike on the climbers’ trail at Liberty Bell in 1994. Photo courtesy Ann Henry
The Rough Years
Adversity struck in the mid-1970s when Doc Henry collided with another skier at the Loup Loup and suffered a head injury that damaged his frontal brain lobe. It forever changed his behavior, and because people couldn’t see the damage, they had a hard time relating to his changed personality, Ann Henry explained.
“He shouldn’t have gone back to work when he did,” she added. Yet he practiced medicine for 15 more years. He died in 1998. “It was not a pleasant time,” she recalled.
The Henrys endured another tragic ski accident in 1979 when Jane, their 18-year-old daughter, died at Mission Ridge. She was a competitive alpine skier making a pre-race training run when she lost her right ski. Continuing downhill on one ski, her repeated attempts to stop failed and she slid into a tree.
Asked if she had any wisdom to share with others dealing with grief or caring for a loved one, Henry simply said, “You just do it. I don’t have any advice.” But after a moment’s consideration she added, “Make time for yourself. Get somebody to come in for an hour or so a day, or even one day a week.” She said she didn’t have that kind of support but it would have been helpful.
From Greenhorn to Camp Cook
Henry also has some very good memories from the 30 summers she worked as a backcountry cook for local packer Claude Miller. “I had not ridden [a horse] at all – maybe one time in a stable” before going to work for Claude, Henry explained. “I met so many great people. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun.” One of her favorite groups came every year from all over country.
She also recalled a “nightmare” outing to Fred’s Lake and Robinson Pass with a group of hikers, who had gone ahead on foot. Camp-cook Henry was coming in with the pack string and supplies. One mule in the string went off the trail and put a hole in its leg. The packer rode out to get help, leaving Henry and her cook’s helper to go ahead with the rest of the loaded animals.
She put some kind of goop on the mule’s wound and started out. All was well until a horse tied to the end of the pack string pulled back, which pulled another horse that was loaded with supplies “over on her side and wedged [her] in some rocks.”
Ann Henry says she doesn't mind solitary hikes. Photo courtesy of Bill and Darla Henry
The ever resourceful Henry cut the rope holding the supplies on the horse, unpacked the boxes, got the horse to her feet, repacked the load and hauled into camp at Robinson Pass – where she still had to cook a late dinner for the hungry hikers. “That was a nightmare,” she said, recalling her exhaustion.
Henry calls herself a woman “with no complaints.” Her four children “are all doing well and are happy,” she said. Her three daughters live in Washington state. Her son is in Anaheim, Calif. One wall of her living room is a gallery of family photos with more spilling into the hallway and onto tables. She has 10 grandchildren and four, soon to be five, great-grandchildren. She keeps up with them all.
As for aging, it’s a subject she prefers to ignore. “I don’t even like to think about how old I am.” She does acknowledge that a few things have “caught up” with her. A complaining knee convinced her to give up horseback riding, and she doesn’t downhill ski as much as she once did. However, in addition to all her other outdoor activities, Henry rides her mountain bike. “I really like the Brown’s Farm to Mazama ride and the Big Valley trail.”
But as her calendar proves, there is no end in sight for Ann Henry’s community work. Or, as she so understatedly puts it: “We tend to be an active family.”