An extraordinary life concluded peacefully on Monday, November 13, when James Allen (Jim) McHenry, Jr., passed away. He was 79.
He was born February 29, 1944, at Stormont Hospital in Topeka and spent most of his childhood in Hutchinson. He was active in Boy Scouts and earned the Eagle Scout Award. His family moved back to Topeka in 1956, and Jim attended Boswell Junior High and Topeka High. For several summers he worked on archaeological digs through the Kansas State Historical Society; a ceramic effigy that he uncovered, from the Munkers Creek people (3550-3050 B.C.E.), is Kansas’ oldest fired clay artifact.
Jim was a fourth-generation graduate of THS, where he served on student council and made the state semifinals in debate. He spent the summer following his graduation as an AFS exchange student in Denizli, Turkey-the beginning of a lifelong connection with his host family, the Tinels, and with the people, language, and culture of Turkey.
He attended the College of Wooster, where he earned a B.A. in history in 1966. Serving as student body president in his senior year, he organized Emphasis Africa-a multi-day conference-and brought the Chad Mitchell Trio (featuring John Denver) to campus for a concert.
He was married to Susan Holm for 11 years. They spent the summer of 1966 at the University of Texas, training for the Peace Corps. For the next two years, they would teach English as a Second Language at Atatürk University in Erzurum, Turkey. Jim liked to play pickup basketball there with students and neighborhood kids, who gave him the affectionate nickname Aslan Jimmy (“Jimmy the Lion”).
Jim earned his master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in 1970. That year, he and Susan welcomed their first son, Andrew. A second, Eric, was born in 1972. Jim taught history and political science at Washburn University from 1970 to 1973. For the rest of his life he regularly received messages of gratitude from former students whom he had inspired. A Fulbright Fellowship allowed him to spend a year in Turkey and Cyprus with his family while doing research for his doctorate.
Jim married Linda Gerhardt on July 5, 1978. They were blessed with 45 years of marriage.
He earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Kansas in 1980. His book, The Uneasy Partnership on Cyprus, 1919-1939, was published by Garland Press in 1987 as part of its series of outstanding dissertations. It continues to be cited in academic journals as an important study of that time and place.
Jim worked for Metro Planning and the United Way of Greater Topeka before being appointed state commissioner of alcohol and drug abuse services by Governor John Carlin in 1983. He was named Kansas Public Administrator of the Year in 1987. The following year, he became executive director of the Kansas Child Abuse Prevention Council. He would help steer that organization through its successful merger with the Kansas Children’s Service League. In 1998, KCSL recognized Jim with a Hall of Fame Award for Outstanding Staff Leadership.
He concluded his career as director of development for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, where he was instrumental in the library’s massive expansion in the late ’90s and early ’00s. He received an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2011. He was a longtime member of Topeka South Rotary, where he was a Paul Harris Fellow.
Jim was a serious and dedicated swimmer from college on-an enthusiasm he shared with Linda, whom he first met at the YWCA pool. He swam with the Topeka Masters Swim Association and medaled regularly at meets. In 1986 he recorded a national top-10 time in the 400-meter individual medley. He was part of the original organizing group for the Topeka Tinman Triathlon, in which he competed for many years. He enjoyed giving private lessons as a level-2 certified Masters swim coach.
His other great passion was fly fishing on the rivers of Colorado, where he and Linda spent several weeks every year. He tied his own flies and caught (and released) many trophy-sized rainbow and brown trout on the Elk and the Yampa.
Jim taught himself to play the acoustic guitar and the banjo and had an impressive repertoire of folk songs. While in college he took a summer job playing professionally, providing the evenings’ entertainment at a lodge in Colorado. His sons have fond childhood memories of drifting off to sleep while Jim strummed songs by Harry Belafonte and the Kingston Trio. He could also play the saz, a Turkish stringed instrument. He was part of the team that organized the first Coleman Hawkins Neighborhood Jazz Festival in Topeka.
He had deep ethical and political commitments and was a longtime supporter of Amnesty International and the Nature Conservancy, among others. As a survivor of the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas, he believed strongly in the need for common-sense solutions to gun violence. He testified before the state legislature many times on behalf of abused and at-risk children and other deserving causes.
He was preceded in death by his parents, James, Sr., and Elizabeth McHenry. He is survived by his wife, Linda McHenry; his sons, Andrew (Hillary) and Eric (Sonja) McHenry; his sister, Julie (Steve) Emerson; his brothers, Mark (Deni) and Bryce (Roslyn) McHenry; his grandchildren, Evan and Sage McHenry; a loving extended family; and innumerable friends in all parts of the world.
A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 25, 2023, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, 4775 SW 21st Street.
Please consider honoring Jim with a donation to the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 SW 10th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66604-1374 or the Helping Hands Humane Society, 5720 SW 21st, Topeka, KS 66604-3720.
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