Steady in the Storm

GWU Alumnus Changes Course to go From High School Drop Out to Senior Engineer

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

These words from “Sea Fever,” by poet John Masefield (1916) have echoed in Glenn Henson’s mind through the challenges in his life. The 91-year-old World War II veteran—who lives in Vienna, W.Va.,—heard the poem recited many times by Phillip Lovin Elliott, president of Gardner-Webb University from 1943 to 1961.

“In chapel, Elliott would say, ‘We’ve got some things to do,’ and he would recite the poem,” recalled Henson, a 1953 graduate. “He said the lines with conviction, and it made an impression on me. It meant that he was determined to do something right and to do it well.”

The words resonated with Henson, because of experiences in his life, such as failing the sixth grade and dropping out of high school to serve in World War II. After the war, Henson worked for a year, then decided to finish high school. Diploma in hand, he enrolled at GWU. “Gardner-Webb had good teachers – some of the best in the country,” Henson stated. “I got a good foundation.”

Henson completed his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at N.C. State University in Raleigh, N.C., and went to work for DuPont in South Carolina. In 1962, DuPont transferred him to Vienna. He volunteered in his church and the community, serving on boards, coaching little league baseball, starting a soccer league and coaching soccer for 15 years. He and his wife raised four sons.

Henson retired from DuPont as a senior engineer after 37 years with the company. He helped design the machinery to manufacture Teflon, Nylon and Butacite, the plastic inside safety windshields. Engineers spend their days solving problems. “It was almost always a challenge,” Henson reflected. “If it didn’t work right, you had to make it work right.” During those times of frustration, Henson was energized by the words of Phillip Lovin Elliott, “I must go down to the seas again…”