Scholarship honors parents who contributed to "the good life"
Family stays loyal to Nebraska and enjoys helping others
Posted: Wed, Feb 29, 2012
Three people were arguing in a Kearney convenience store.
They stood near a man of little means, whose car had run out of gas about a half mile away.
"They were arguing over who was going to go home and get a gas can for the man," says Tom Henning. "Each of them wanted to be the one.
"Then a farmer says, ‘Hell, I've got a log chain on my pickup. I'll just pull you in here.'"
They didn't even know the man.
Tom had come to the store that morning to drink coffee with a friend. The friend was about to move to Kearney from Texas to work for him at his family's food-service distribution company, Cash-Wa, which is headquartered in Kearney.
The friend couldn't believe the scene.
You wouldn't see that in Texas, he told Tom. Or keep your doors unlocked at night like people do in Kearney. Or sleep with the windows open.
But it didn't surprise Tom, a lifelong Nebraskan.
"My parents are dyed-in-the-wool Nebraskans," he says. "They grew up in tough times, when everything was at a premium, especially the cost of an education. One thing my family has learned is that Nebraska's greatest resource is its people.
"That's what makes ‘the good life' in Nebraska."
Tom and his brothers recently found a way to make that good life even better. And they did it in honor of their parents, Harvey and Betty Henning of Kearney.
They established the Henning Family Scholarship Fund, which will provide about 15 $2,000 scholarships each year to UNK undergraduates. The scholarships will go to students who graduated from high schools in Nebraska and who are studying business, technology, education or the fine and performing arts.
Their mother is a classically trained pianist with perfect pitch. For years she taught piano to kids in Kearney, including her own boys. She attended college for a couple of years back in the '40s but didn't graduate.
Neither did their father, whose own father had died when he was a boy.
At just 11 years old, Harvey Henning was already working hard for Cash-Wa. He'd ride a bicycle out to the Army air base – in Kearney during World War II – to refill the vending machines.
In 1957, he and a partner bought Cash-Wa. The Henning family eventually became sole owner. Tom is now president and CEO.
Their father has a big heart, Tom says, and not an enemy in the world. He remembers how his dad would hire people over the years – many people – just because he knew they were hardship cases.
"My parents were great givers of their time," Tom says. "They always believed in giving back. I guess it was just a basic philosophy of my family. They always taught us that, at the end of the day, people remember what you did for others more than the fact you made ‘X' amount of dollars or achieved recognition or notoriety in life."
Their parents are proud that most of their kids and grandkids have graduated from the University of Nebraska. They know how much NU has done over the years to help Nebraska's economy and quality of life.
Harvey and Betty are now living in an assisted-living home. They have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the family. Harvey comes to the office whenever he wants and can see three of his five sons or four of his grandchildren on any day. Betty spends her time playing bridge and enjoying her piano, which she still plays beautifully.
"We're glad we did it while they're still alive," Tom says. "They were real tickled when we told them. They lit up like lights.
"The fact that we did something for our fellow man is something, to them, that is real cool."
Student support is a top priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you'd also like to help students, visit campaignfornebraska.org/students. To help UNK students, please give online or contact the foundation's Lucas Dart at 800-432-3216.