Former Idaho state Rep. Frank Henderson died yesterday at the age of 92, after a long life of public service that included serving as a Kootenai County commissioner, mayor of Post Falls, a World War II Army veteran, an international consultant on public administration and economic development in eastern Europe, 10 years in the Idaho Legislature and more. He was a retired marketing executive and newspaper publisher whose wife, Betty Ann, serves on the Post Falls City Council.
In 2012, Henderson was named chairman of the House Business Committee a day after he celebrated in his 90th birthday; a year earlier, he’d given up his coveted seat on the joint budget committee after five years to focus his legislative work more on economic development. He sponsored key legislation that year to help Idaho aircraft parts businesses that has now led to major expansions in employment by some of those firms in the state.
After celebrating his 90th birthday during the Legislature’s December 2012 organizational session, Henderson said, “My parents said they gave me some durable genes, and that’s what it takes.” At the time, people who didn’t know him guessed he was in his 60s; that year, he picked up the nickname “Energizer Bunny” from fellow lawmakers impressed with his prodigious work ethic and stamina; he was the oldest member of the Legislature.
Henderson died late Monday night at Hospice of North Idaho's Hospice House in Coeur d'Alene, with family and close friends at his side. Tom Henderson, Frank’s son who lives in Liberty Lake, said his father’s final comments were about his gratitude for having been able to meet and work with so many great people in Idaho. “He was overwhelmed to the point of almost not understanding why there was always such a nice outpouring of support for him,” Tom Henderson said. “A very humble man, right to the end, but very grateful for his opportunities to serve.”
Former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, considered Henderson his mentor; he first met him when Hammond was a school principal at Seltice Elementary in Post Falls, and Henderson was the publisher of the Post Falls Tribune. Henderson encouraged Hammond to get involved in public life, starting with a run for the Post Falls City Council.
“He saw more in me than I saw in myself,” Hammond said. “I dearly loved that man. Of course that’s why I consented to run for the City Council; he kept asking me to run and I kept saying no. And then when I finally said yes, it was only because I didn’t think I’d get elected. … He just thought I had something to contribute to the community.” Hammond went on to be mayor of Post Falls, and a senator who chaired the Senate Transportation Committee; he’s now the city administrator for the City of Coeur d’Alene.
Hammond said Henderson was “into all kinds of gadgets, he loved gadgets,” from ham radios to remote-controlled airplanes he built himself to state-of-the-art GPS. “He was never without something to do,” Hammond said.
He recalled having lunch with Henderson, who had cancer, just a month ago; Henderson talked about an effort he was working on with Bob Potter, who also has cancer, on new strategies to entice businesses to North Idaho. “They were both working on strategies to improve North Idaho,” Hammond said. Boise State Public Radio has posted its 2012 interview with Henderson online here; the Idaho Statesman's 2014 profile of Henderson is online here. Coeur d'Alene Press reporters offer their remembrances here.
Henderson is survived by his wife Betty Ann, four of his five children, and six grandchildren. Said his son Tom, "He was a good man."