When Ed Henken trades quips with a lifelong friend, he displays the creative approach he often used to solve problems as Whatcom County engineer.
A 1957 graduate of the University of Washington, Henken remains loyal to the Huskies, as his friend Sherm Polinder well knows.
“I’m a Cougar, a Washington State University graduate, but Ed still likes to refer to it as Washington State College,” Polinder says.
“What Sherm forgets is that the state had criteria to be called a university,” Henken says with a grin. “The state of Washington lowered standards, just before I graduated from UW. On their logo, the Cougars just turned the ‘C’ 90 percent to become a ‘U’.”
Henken, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Jan. 20, is known, in part, for the expertise in flood control he developed over nearly three decades of dike building with the Army Corps of Engineers, and others. He also applied new shoulder-building techniques to widen county roads to a much safer 22 feet, from 15 to 18 feet. Another gratifying project was Squalicum Way, which he engineered and directed construction, creating what he called “a tremendous shortcut to the waterfront.”
Henken also became an authority on Clydesdales, breeding and showing the large draft horses while serving a record 46 years on the board of directors of the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center, stepping down last year.
“I love the Northwest Washington Fair,” Henken says. “The fair has played a great role in helping us maintain our agricultural roots.”
All the while Henken and his wife, Freda, reared a family of four children. They also have eight grandchildren.
A 1953 graduate of Lynden Christian High School, Henken is the son of Art and Berdena Henken. Art, for many years the owner of Star Mercantile grocery store, served 49 years on the Lynden City Council.
When Henken worked with the state Health Department in Olympia after he graduated from UW, he saw a “spiffy looking gal” who was a secretary for Albert Rosellini, governor from 1957 to 1965.
Henken squired Freda around in a chestnut 1963 Thunderbird, and convinced her to go bowling and to attend Tacoma Christian Reformed Church. Of such was a lifetime partnership formed.
A longtime member of the Third Christian Reformed Church in Lynden, Henken received a long 80th birthday tribute from Polinder in the Third Church Bugle, asking members to celebrate with Ed while summing up the tribute this way: “Throughout his career Ed certainly accomplished a lot. He had to negotiate through many difficult situations. He was always a voice of reason – sometimes among unreasonable people. He performed modestly, never drawing attention to himself. Retired public service servants often go along unnoticed and unappreciated. Let’s thank Ed for helping make Whatcom County a better place to live.”
Starting in 1965, Henken worked eight years as city engineer with the Bellingham Public Works Department. He then served the county in his engineering role for 28 years, until he retired.
Henken was so highly regarded by his peers that he was named Rural County Engineer of the Year for 1992 by the Washington Association of County Engineers.
Henken fell in love with Clydesdales when he was in his teens, if not younger. He remembers the kindness that Polinder’s grandfather, Fred K. Polinder Sr., showed in developing Henken‘s love of the breed, convincing him that some day he wanted to drive the classic six-horse hitch.
“I had never owned a horse until I suddenly owned 12 of them,” Henken recalls.
Henken, who had a dairy farm in rural Ferndale, first boarded his beloved horses there, then bought 60 acres on adjacent land. Daughter-in-law Monica Henken now provides primary care for the Henken family’s Clydesdales, which Ed showed many times at the fairs in Lynden and Puyallup.
“We are truly blessed to live here,” Henken says