‘A consensus builder’: Longtime community advocate John Henricksen dies at 79


Dr. John Henricksen, a longtime dentist, volunteer, community advocate, Rotarian, devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, W.F. West High School graduate and The Chronicle’s 2011 Person of the Year, died on May 15 at his home in Chehalis.

He was 79.

Henricksen, a 1963 graduate of W.F. West High School, attended dental school at the University of Washington and completed a residency at an Air Force hospital in Washington, D.C. He was later sent to Vietnam to practice.

The recipient of The Chronicle’s Person of the Year in 2011, Henricksen said in a profile that the decision for him and his wife Jolyn to return to Lewis County was easy.

"I came back because I wanted to be involved in a community I knew something about," Henricksen explained. "I grew up here and made so many connections and friends, and really it was easy to come back and live here."

After his service, Henricksen founded the Henricksen Family Dental office in Chehalis, where he treated patients for more than four decades. In his practice, Henricksen was called upon to help identify deceased individuals using dental records.

"He's never charged our office for his services; it's been completely voluntary since day one," Detective Sgt. Dusty Breen said in 2011. "He basically saved us both time and money, and his work saved us from having to send everything out of state where we could have essentially waited forever."

Through his church, Henricksen also networked with other medical and dental professionals to travel to foreign countries to perform dental work for those who need it yet cannot afford health care, including Central America and China, where Henricksen worked to help open the nation's first dental training school in a 2005 trip.

"I always wanted to help people. It's in my blood because I truly believe it's what we're supposed to do," Henricksen said in the 2011 profile. "I was always taught that at a young age, and my faith has really reinforced that."

In 2014, he turned the office over to his youngest son, Dan, though he promised to remain active in the community.

"I'm not going to leave this community when I retire," Henricksen said in the 2011 profile. "I'll keep my license current and I'll continue to help out in the community any way I can."

Following the flood of 2007, which devastated Southwest Washington, Henricksen helped coordinate relief efforts through his church and began efforts to ensure a similar tragedy wouldn’t occur again.

"We had people from everywhere pretty much doing it all, delivering food, ripping up carpet, whatever people needed, you name it," Henricksen said in 2011. "It was really through that experience that I realized just how terribly this impacted a whole bunch of people."

After the water receded, Henricksen founded and chaired a group known as One Voice, which searched for a unified solution to flooding in the Chehalis River Basin. He remained active in the group until his death.

“He was the perfect leader for that because he was universally respected,” Chehalis attorney J. Vander Stoep said Tuesday. “People knew he was thoughtful and did his homework.”

In a 2020 guest commentary, Henricksen wrote that he was “born and raised here so I know what the history of flooding does to this basin, but I also know what it meant to me as a kid growing up here and fishing the Chehalis when fish were more plentiful.”

“Let’s make it all work.”

In Chehalis, Henricksen raised the idea for the Penny Playground at Recreation Park, which opened in 1993. Henricksen was inspired to help build the structure while visiting Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 

Henricksen chaired numerous bond and levy committees for the Chehalis School District, including one that allowed for the construction of Chehalis Middle School on 20th Street.

“He was a very strong advocate of the Chehalis Public School System,” Vander Stoep said Tuesday.

As he worked with Henricksen for decades on various community projects, Vander Stoep said his decency was evident.

“I never saw him lose his temper. He was very calm,” Vander Stoep said. “A consensus builder.”

While his impact on Lewis County was significant and long-lasting, Henricksen preferred to keep a low profile.

"I really don't ever want my name on anything," Henricksen said in 2011. "I get great satisfaction just by seeing things get accomplished."

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 29, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chehalis with a reception to follow. A graveside service will be held at Claquato Cemetery following the church reception. Arrangements are under the care of Cattermole Funeral Home.

According to his obituary, his family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one of Henricksen's favorite charities, which includes the the Chehalis Foundation (https://chehalisfoundation.org), Rotary (https://my.rotary.org) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (https://philanthropies.churchofjesuschrist.org).