Saturday, September 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"Rabbit" Henderson, 101, camp matriarch

Seattle Times staff reporter

Lucile Townsend Henderson, the 101-year-old matriarch of a youth camp in the San Juans, is remembered for her strength and dedication to providing young people with the skills and confidence necessary to succeed, and instilling in them a lifelong respect for nature.

Ms. Henderson, known as "Rabbit," died Sunday (Sept. 3) in Seattle after a brief illness.

Her husband, Frank Henderson, in 1935 founded the Henderson Camps, which encompassed San Juan for boys and Northstar for girls. Ms. Henderson had been the director of the Seattle Girl Scouts council and was on the national staff in New York; she also had lectured about field work at Harvard University.

Ms. Henderson was born and raised in Seattle and earned degrees in economics and French at the University of Washington. The Hendersons were married in 1938 and influenced hundreds of young people.

"She was a legend — as was her husband. That camp was there for as long as I can remember," said former Gov. Booth Gardner, 70, who was a camp counselor during high school.

Every summer from 1935 to 1966, when the Hendersons retired, the camp let kids sleep in tepees and learn canoeing, sailing, swimming and Native American art and dance.

Ms. Henderson, with no children of her own, inspired and continued to serve a vital role in the lives of former campers and camp counselors long after their summers at camp.

"She was an environmentalist, a conservationist and a feminist before they became causes," former camper John Dickson said. "She was very interested in the lives and development of the children and their safety."

Dickson spent 13 summers as a camper and then a camp counselor in the 1950s and '60s, and later became a rheumatologist in Seattle. His relationship with the Hendersons was such that a significant donation is being made to the University of Washington's Division of Rheumatology from Ms. Henderson's estate.

Members of the third generation of some families are now attending the camp, renamed Camp Nor'wester.

Donn Charnley, a state legislator from 1970 to 1984, spent his first summer at the camp in 1937. All six of his children have camped there over the years, and now his grandchildren are becoming involved.

Charnley said he probably wouldn't have become a state official if not for the self-confidence inspired by the Hendersons. Charnley, 78, is a professor emeritus of geology and still teaches occasionally at Edmonds Community College.

"I became a teacher because of that camp," he said. "I learned to love the Earth."

Bill Holm, art professor emeritus at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum, met his wife, Marty, when they were camp counselors in 1949. They married in 1953. Marty Holm remains on the camp's executive board.

Camp Nor'wester has passed through many hands since the Hendersons retired in 1966, but for many it remains a Henderson institution.

Gardner was instrumental in helping the property remain a camp after the Hendersons sold it. After the original land on Lopez Island was eventually sold, Camp Nor'wester reopened on Johns Island in 2000.

The Hendersons also campaigned to preserve Point Colville on Lopez Island from development. As a result of their work, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management determined the land to be a significant wetlands area.

After Mr. Henderson died in 1986, Ms. Henderson remained an important part of former campers' lives. She has no living brothers or sisters, but several nieces and nephews, including David Thomas, who lives on Lopez Island.

Services have not yet been scheduled. Remembrances may be made to the Townsend-Henderson Fund for Rheumatology at the UW.

Kathy F. Mahdoubi: 206-464-8292 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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