PROFILE

Dr. Gary McHenry

Education is Everything

By Glenda Graves

Portrait photos by Hudson Photography

Gary McHenry was born in the south Arkansas town of Camden in 1957, the youngest of 10 children. His father worked for International Paper Company. “He came up through the ranks, though he never got into any management,” McHenry recalls today. “He did work in the lab right before retirement. He developed something that helped with shipping, though he probably never got the credit for his ingenuity that he probably should have.” McHenry’s mother never worked outside the home, though, with 10 children, she certainly worked at home. “She made do with the things that were available.”

By the time McHenry was born, there were only four children still living at home. The family lived outside the city limits, in what is called the Goodhome Community. He explains, “The church was right across from our home, and it was the center of our community activity. My dad was the deacon of the church.” McHenry describes his childhood by saying, “I was a child of integration. I attended Lafayette Elementary, which was the black school, and then transferred to Fairview in 1966 when I was in the fourth grade. This was before forced integration there.”

 

He says that his teachers at Lafayette spent a lot of time focusing on him before he transferred, wanting him to represent Lafayette well. And represent them well he certainly did. He was a member of the National Honor Society at Fairview Schools, excelling in all areas of academics. He says his parents viewed education as “the way up and the way out.” McHenry says, “Neither of my parents achieved more than an eighth-grade education. But they had plenty of common sense. They recognized that those who had much in society had that because they had been focused on education.”

 

One specific story McHenry remembers about his time at Lafayette Elementary involved his father pleading to the school board for better books. “The books we had in our segregated school were of lesser quality. He wanted better books for our schools. Part of that passion came from my two oldest brothers. They served in the Air Force and one spent time in France. They had some world experience and they relayed that back to my parents to help them figure out what was important to succeed in society. I remember my brother bringing me a gyroscope once and the book The Call of the Wild another time. We always had a set of encyclopedias in the house.”

Though McHenry says he didn’t really know what he wanted to do when he grew up, he knew he would get an education. He began college at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, studying physics. He laughs and says, “I spent a semester and a half in that area and determined it was more than I wanted. I had more math than anything else, so I changed my major to math, still not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with that. I just knew that education was the way to opening doors. I believed I could achieve without a particular goal.”

 

After graduating with a degree in mathematics from SAU, he started at International Paper — the same company his father had worked for — as mid-level management. He was the foreman for the printing department, but most of the people who worked under him had at least 25 years of experience at the company. It made for a very uncomfortable working environment. McHenry says, “I said to myself, ‘If education is the way out, then I need more than an undergraduate degree.’ So, I came to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1982 to pursue a master’s degree in computer science, which was out of the College of Engineering at the time.” 

 

After receiving the master’s degree in computer science, he took a job with the University of Arkansas. He was developing programs with word processing, and eventually landed in continuing education and helped them develop programs. 

 

In the early ‘90s, McHenry went on to earn his doctorate in education and work force education. He worked for the University of Arkansas in various capacities from 1985 until present, certainly proving that education was important to him and that it continued to propel him forward in life. In 2010, Dr. McHenry left the main campus in Fayetteville to work for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education, part of Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. 

 

The Schmieding Center was born out of need and love. When his brother started showing signs of advanced aging, Lawrence Schmieding made the promise to find someone to take care of him at home. The promise turned out to be very difficult to keep. He recognized that there was a need for formal training specifically designed to prepare individuals to care for older adults in their home. 

Schmieding’s personal experience led to a generous gift from the Schmieding Foundation to UAMS in 1998, and the foundation established a 20-year endowment to construct and then operate the first Center on Aging in Arkansas. Dr. McHenry says, “Mr. Schmieding would say, ‘Where there’s home, there’s hope.’ He knew how important it was to be able to keep aging Arkansans in their own homes.”

 

From those beginnings, the Schmieding Center has expanded and continued to improve the way it assists the aging population. It not only provides training for caregivers, but also assists older adults in many ways to help them realize longevity healthily, happily and at home. It offers a “uniquely high-touch approach to delivering healthy-living learning opportunities, aging information, referrals and consultation services and specialized health care for older adults.”

 

In a global pandemic where COVID-19 is severely high risk for the aging population, the Schmieding Center has recognized its importance in making sure the ones it serves are being cared for and educated. This has been especially difficult in a situation where they are isolated and required to be socially distant. 

 

Luckily, Dr. McHenry is uniquely skilled for such a time. Dr. McHenry was involved with the inception of distance learning at the University of Arkansas. He says with COVID-19, “It’s forced us to learn more tricks and innovative ways to connect with our people. Though I did have some understanding before as to how important it was, we have gone above and beyond to make connections. Many people in our demographic are getting Facebook now to stay connected. We have been using Zoom and Facebook Live. I fully expect that once we are beyond this time of COVID-19, we’re not going to go back to the way we were.”

 

Dr. McHenry recognizes that the socialization part is extremely important for the people the center serves. With in-person socialization not being safe at this time, the center is offering as much as it can online. From Tai Chi to yoga workouts, it is addressing the need for exercise and socialization. He knows the staff is missing being around people of like mind, but they are continuing to come up with ways to connect their demographic. Dr. McHenry highly recommends checking out the center’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/schmiedingcenter.

 

Dr. McHenry and his wife of 41 years, Lepaine Sharp McHenry, have three children and also raised one niece. They have both always seen the value in education. Lepaine McHenry is the dean of Simmons University in Massachusetts, and the couple has learned the ability to have a successful distance relationship. Dr. McHenry’s siblings sought education from the beginning, with one brother becoming a school principal, another brother and a sister becoming teachers, and even a sister-in-law who directed the Arkansas Education Association. 

 

He continues that passion now at 63, educating aging Arkansans. Dr. McHenry says that he has found nothing better in his life than his walk with the Lord, and his favorite passage is Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” He believes that people must have a vision as to where their life is going and something that guides them and moves them in a positive direction. He is doing just that with the people of the Schmieding Center. He is a provider of positive direction and vision. He continues to be propelled by the things that have always guided him, and the aging population of Northwest Arkansas is more than pleased to have him. 

 

Visit uamscaregiving.org/springdale for more information on the Schmieding Center.

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