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1916 - 2018

Stanley Henson Jr., M.D. (S ’55)

Fort Collins – We have lost a legend. He stood only 5′ 10″ but was “bigger than life,” a man of high moral character, from the “Greatest Generation.” The list of his achievements in every endeavor was over-the-top. When asked how he did it, he replied, “Aim high, set goals, stay focused, and keep moving.”

Born on Thanksgiving Day, November 30th, 1916, to Stanley W. and Irene (nee Hopkins) Henson in Jackson, Michigan, he became forever “Junior” to his family. As a boy he excelled at the yoyo, and making kites from newspapers, sticks, and discarded twine. While riding a friend’s bicycle he was run over by an old touring car, high enough off the ground for a scrawny little kid to emerge with only scrapes and bruises.

“Junior” began his working career at the age of eight, joining his father’s crew of men building oil derricks in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California. By about ten years later, having mastered the trade of carrying steel beams while walking along one foot planks 60 ft. above the ground (before the use of safety harnesses), he was proudly earning the wages of a “rig builder.”

The strength, balance, and concentration developed building oil derricks naturally helped him in his wrestling career. Additionally, Stan knew, and never forgot, how fortunate he was to have had two of the finest coaches ever in his sport, Art Griffith at Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Edward C. Gallagher at Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University). Amazingly, neither of these celebrated coaches had ever himself been a wrestler! Winning two state championships at Central High School, Stan was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the meet in 1935. Stan lost only one match in three years representing Oklahoma A & M. He was a sophomore weighing about 142 lbs., but competing at 155 lbs. because his team had another good man at 145. Stan lost to Bill Keas, a tough wrestler from the University of Oklahoma. Coach Gallagher had him wrestle at 145 lbs. for the rest of the season, but Stan demanded to challenge Bill Keas when the two teams met again later in the year. Stan won the rematch. At the end of the season Bill Keas won the NCAA championship at 155 lbs. Stan won at 145 lbs. and was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the 1937 tournament, the first sophomore to be so honored. Of course, he continued to dominate his sport, winning the NCAA Tournament again in 1938 and 1939. He won two AAU National Championships as well, and, along with three fellow Oklahoma A & M wrestlers, represented the United States on the American team that traveled to Europe in 1938. Stan is a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and was named an Outstanding Alumnus of Oklahoma State University. (Go Pokes!)

While at Oklahoma A & M he met fellow student Thelma Isabel Burnell, an accomplished pianist, a great beauty, and a sweet, wonderful lady. They fell hard for each other, married in 1938, and never looked back. After college Stan and Thelma moved to Annapolis, Maryland, where he was the assistant wrestling coach at the Naval Academy, and she continued her musical studies.

During World War II Lieutenant Stanley W. Henson Jr. served as a gunnery officer on one of the most decorated ships of the U.S. Navy, the illustrious heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38). He fought in the invasion of Lingayen Gulf, and the battles of Formosa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. His heavy cruiser participated in “a five-day, high speed strike against enemy surface units in the South China Sea.” Joining our first task force of surface warships to close with the Japanese home islands, the San Francisco blasted “air facilities in central Honshu.” While Stan was aboard, his battle-scarred cruiser repelled multiple assaults by Japanese suicide boats and kamikazes. At Okinawa the mighty guns of the San Francisco provided fire support for the gallant men of the 96th and 77th Infantry Divisions of the United States Army, and their brothers in the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions. In December of 1944 the San Francisco even survived a fierce typhoon in which three destroyers went down. Since all mail was censored he kept a journal, written as letters to Thelma. It is a lively and interesting account of the naval war he was part of. Lieutenant Henson’s awards and decorations include the Combat Action Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Medal (1 Bronze Star), Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Occupation Medal (Asia Clasp), Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal (4 Battle Stars), and the World War II Victory Medal.

When the war ended and Stan was already thirty years old, he entered the University of Maryland Medical School. While there he cleared the land and built a home for his family of four, basically with his own hands before the age of power tools, so with an axe, shovel, hammer, and saw. He graduated high in his class, winning two of the honor awards given to graduates. After his internship at the Marine Hospital in Baltimore, Stan headed to the prestigious Mayo Clinic for surgical training. Dr. Henson left that institution with a Master’s Degree in surgery, and brought his family to Fort Collins, becoming the first trained surgeon in town. It was 1956. Stan began his life’s work just shy of forty. Many of the surgeries that he performed were his own creative solutions to extreme trauma, restoring physical skills and abilities which might otherwise have been lost. Over the years he became chief of medical staff and chief of surgery at Poudre Valley Hospital, and was a member of the hospital board. He always advocated securing equipment, expertise, and practices that would enhance patient care in Northern Colorado. Dr. Henson authored or co-authored 18 articles in major medical journals. He also wrote and lectured about sports medicine. Finding no history of medicine in this area, Stan researched and authored “History of Medicine in Northern Colorado.” Former patients often thanked him for his skill, and compassionate care. In 1998 Dr. Henson was named “Physician of the Year” by the Larimer County Medical Association.

Having had two superb wrestling coaches, Stan was equally fortunate to have been joined by two gifted surgeons and fine men who became his partners, James K. Wise, M.D., and Merlin M. Otteman, M.D. Stan always maintained he had the best partners that a man could have. (All three were lucky to later be joined by another excellent surgeon and partner, Thomas G. Chiavetta, M.D.) Northern Colorado Surgical Associates endures and continues to provide professional, “state-of-the-art surgical expertise” for the region.

While at the Mayo Clinic, Stan made time to teach Janine and Michele how to fish. Stan and George learned fly-fishing from their Dad along the streams of Colorado and Wyoming. He was a passionate and expert fly-fisherman, and somehow, always seemed to have more luck than anyone else. He climbed all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000′ peaks, even making it up five of them in two days, at age 75!

Stan and Thelma enjoyed boating on Horsetooth Reservoir, the Flaming Gorge, and Lake Powell. They both loved to share a drink and watch the sun go down over the Sea of Cortez at their home in Bahia de Kino, Sonora, Mexico.

Thelma passed away on November 25th, 2016, which completely broke his heart. They had just celebrated 78 years of marriage in July. Dr. Henson is survived by Janine Robberson of Bend, Oregon, Michele Carey-Strebel of Newport Beach, California, Stanley W. Henson III of San Diego, California, George M. Henson II of Fort Collins, one grandchild, four great grandchildren, and one great, great grandchild.

We are watching “his sun go down” and saying “thank-you” for the wonderful example and generous gifts of character he has left us.

Services: Monday, February 12th, 11:00 AM, at Allnutt Funeral Home. A Celebration of Life will follow from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM at the Adriel Hills Club House.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation, or to GRIT Athletics, a wrestling program that Stan believed developed purpose, character, and drive in boys and young men. (PO BOX 195, Livermore, CO 80536)