Throughout my years at MHS I knew I wanted to teach history. Three days after graduation I enrolled in North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas). I went straight through college and finished my bachelor’s in January 1963, with majors in history, education and psychology, and minors in English and sociology. By the time I graduated I had already begun work on my master’s; by the time I obtained that degree (January 1965) I had already been accepted into the doctoral program. I married in December 1962 to a woman who had two children (this marriage would break up in 1991).
After graduating with my bachelor’s, I found a teaching position (English) in a small, rural high school (Era, Texas) thirty miles from Denton; this allowed me to work and continue my graduate degrees. I spent two good years at Era-I got “my feet on the ground” with my teaching and developed many friendships which continue to this day. One of my best honors was to be invited back as the graduation speaker the year after I left. Two years ago, my wife and I went back to the fortieth class reunion of what was the tenth grade class the first year I taught there.
During my second year at Era I was hired to teach a night class in sociology at a junior college in Gainesville, Texas (the same year I completed my master’s). That led into an offer for a full time teaching position in history the next year. I stayed there for two years and came to advocate the community college concept as it was beginning to develop.
During this time I also continued work on my doctorate. Originally planned as an EdD in administration, I was approached by the history department to switch to a PhD in history (they were getting ready to add the degree); by the time I left North Texas, I had taken thirty hours beyond the master’s, all in history and geography. Because of my next job move, I was never able to complete my doctorate.
In 1967 I made my most important career change; I accepted a teaching position at the first public community college in New Mexico-New Mexico Junior College, in Hobbs, New Mexico. Up until this point in time all two-year colleges in New Mexico were tied to four-year universities (simply branch campuses). Hobbs broke this tradition and created an independent two-year college based on the Texas model of community colleges. At the time I went there, the college had been in operation for one year. NMJC’s pay scale was as high as any community college in the Southwest; my first contract represented a 44% increase over what I made the previous year. The board was actively recruiting quality educators from throughout the country; that first group of people was the most dynamic group of educators I have ever seen. Gradually, the state of New Mexico changed its two· year college program from the branch college system into public community colleges, using NMJC as the model. It was an exciting time.
I spent thirty-two years at NMJC; in 1969 I became evening college director and, four years later, director of community services. As director of community services, I developed a major program of non ·traditional education (continuing education, college via television and college via newspaper). Our continuing education program grew to an annual enrollment of 5,400 people-including everything from vocational offerings, to craft courses and belly dancing. We were also able to develop a pilot program of providing non· credit courses for senior citizens (classes ranging from dealing with the loss of a mate, to minor vocational and avocational offerings); once the program was started, the city of Hobbs picked it up as part of their senior citizen program.
Still, I missed the classroom; in 1976 I went back into teaching (I still can’t believe someone would pay me to stand in front of a group and talk about history.) After going back into teaching, I used my earlier experiences in non-traditional programs to develop a multi-media program for teaching history.
If I sound excited about my teaching experiences … well, I am. Teaching was everything I dreamed it could be, and much more. I was able to watch my students move on to four-year universities and do well in upper level programs. I know of one who went on to MIT, another who is now a full professor at Texas Woman’s University … and on and on. One neat experience occurred when one of my night students, a really good student, came up after class and asked me if I had gone to Midland High in the 1950’s. When I told him that I had, he told me that his mother was Nelda Walker. It is a small world.
By 1999 I had remarried; at that time I retired and we moved to Lubbock. Although the marriage did not last, the move to Lubbock is one of the best decisions I could have made. Through my church, I met Kay Lehman ( who was widowed) and we were married four years ago. In the six years we have known each other we have developed a fantastic relationship; we love to travel, enjoy theatre and movies, and have been involved with kids and grandkids. Living in Lubbock has had its advantages in the way of medical care; between the two of us, we have had approximately sixteen serious medical issues in the last six years. I had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery in 2003, a detached retina in 2005, and back surgery in 2006. Kay has had pancreatitis, several orthopedic surgeries, back surgery, and, most recently, glaucoma and cataract surgery. We have come through all of this in good shape. Obviously, being close to quality medical care was a real blessing.
A final, most important part of my life centers on my model ship building. I had built models in high school, but during my college years turned it into an art form. For the past 40+ years I have been “scratch building” model sailing ships from copies of original builders’ plans. These models end up being miniature duplicates of the original ships, built plank-by-plank very much the same as the original was. It has been a labor of love. Over the years, I have sold models in eight different states, including the New England area as well as California and the far west. In 1985 a gallery on Madison Avenue, in New York City, bought fourteen of my models. After retirement I began building what will be a constant-scale collection of American sailing ships that portray the history and development of American sailing craft. At present, there are forty-four models in the collection, and I hope to eventually place the collection, as a group, in a museum. My one departure from sailing ships was to build a nine-foot model of the Titanic; I completed this in 2007, and it contains thousands of individually crafted parts.
As I said, Kay and I have developed a great life together; we have many good friends and more activities on our ”bucket list” than we will ever be able to accomplish ( we’re going to give it our best shot.) We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the reunion.
AND THEN, NOT SO SERIOUSLY:
I went through a major name change after entering North Texas. As you probably don’t know, my full name is Griffith Freeland Henson. Well, when I enrolled at North Texas they were using IBM punch cards and they filled them out with last name, first name, and then middle name. When they started entering my middle name there were only four spaces left, and the keypunch operator knew I could not be named FREE, so they entered FRED (making me Griffith Fred Henson). A letter from a local church came, addressed to Griggin Henson (now Griggin Fred Henson); finally, I got a package from a model company addressed to Griffith Menson. Within six weeks of high school graduation I had become Griggin Fred Menson-needless to say it didn’t take long for one of the guys in the dorm to change the “G” in Griggin to an ”F”, and I then became old Friggin Fred. I still prefer being called Grif.
After moving to Lubbock and going through another divorce, I found a good church home and began building a new life. I knew I had found a good church when the church had a country western dance in its old church building and the woman minister (who was wearing jeans) danced every dance. Within a year I had built many new friendships in Lubbock. I bought a home and added a 700 sq. ft. gallery for my ships out back. Hoping to find someone who I could go out with, I ran an ad in a local singles column which talked about a retired teacher who enjoyed plays, travel, etc. looking for someone with similar interests and for whom church was a priority. Of the various calls I got, one woman (a widow) talked with me for ahnost an hour before asking what church I went to. Long and short of the matter-we went to the same church, had Sunday school classes across the hall from each other, and I had been sitting six rows directly behind her in church for over a year. The woman was Kay and the rest was … history.
It’s been a rather simple life. I’ve traveled throughout most of the United States and Kay and I have even been on a cruise. Still, at fine restaurants in Dallas I’ll generally ask what year of Miller Lite they have available. I don’t own a Rolex, or a Lexus, and I buy my clothes at Dillards. Life has had its ups and downs, but-bottom line-it’s been great.