CHICKAMAW BEACH — Chickamaw Beach resident Susanne Henk admitted she was a little overwhelmed when she attended her first Pine River Area Health District meeting in January.
Recent PRSD meetings have been somewhat chaotic, to say the least, but Henk said that for now she is watching, watching and thinking about everything. When the time comes, this new PRSD board member hopes her own life experiences will help her work with other board members for smoother future dialogue.
I would take a bullet for those people, but I don’t want to be that bullet.
“I have a few questions,” Henk said. “But I don’t want to step in and say, ‘I’ve got all these great ideas and we’re going to change this and do that. I was at my first meeting as a member when problems arose. I thought, ‘Well, we’ll discuss that later.'”
Henk is no stranger to serving on boards. In other communities, she has served on the Functional Industry Board, the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, and the Dental Assisting Auxiliary Board. She is currently a member of the Chickamaw Beach City Council. She is serving three years.
When Bob Hobson resigned from the PRASD board, the Chickamaw Beach council asked Henk if she would consider taking his place. She decided to give it a try.
“The former mayor of Chickamaw Beach (Hobson) was there for 11 years, I think,” Henk said. “He had mentioned a few years before that he might ask me if I would consider joining. I said, ‘OK, sure. “”
His experience isn’t limited to governments and corporate boards, either. Henk has a plethora of different life experiences to draw from.
Henk was born in Iowa, where she remained until she graduated from Newman High School in Mason City, Iowa. She emigrated to Minnesota for graduate school in Minneapolis. She was considering becoming a dental assistant.
It was at school that she met Ed Henk, the current Chickamaw Beach clerk and her future husband.
“I was going to be a dental assistant and my uncle was now married to my husband’s aunt,” Henk said. “They were from California. He said, ‘My wife has a nephew who goes to dental school. We should put you in touch because you work for dentists. We met, and seven years later we got married after he was in dental school and in the military.”
Back in Minnesota, the couple both worked in the dental industry, though not always in the same office. Eventually, Henk got into making stained glass. She worked in this industry for 20 years and opened her own retail store in Buffalo.
“I had three or four employees,” Henk said. “We did a lot of stained glass for repairs and things like that.”
Upon their return to Minnesota, they also began looking for cabin property up north. It was then that she remembered an old acquaintance.
“I stayed at a Catholic girls’ club (in college),” Henk said. “Marcy Armstrong’s daughter was at the Girls’ Club. She was from Pine River. I had never been to Pine River, but I heard a lot about it. When we got married, we were looking for a bit of land in the woods and a cabin or something. The realtor said there were 80 acres in Pine River and I said, “That’s where she’s from.”
Now, having children together, they have built a cabin in the Pine River countryside. They skinned and ground the logs themselves.
“The kids were really small,” Henk said. “But two of them were actually peeling logs.”
Within two years, they completed the cabin, and the family spent much of their free time there. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that the Henks “retired” and moved to the Pine River area as permanent residents. Even then, the stained glass shop remained open with her daughter at the helm, and her husband continued to practice dental work alongside Dr. Owen Johnson until the office was sold to Dr. Jaime Preble.
When his daughter started working in a new area, they closed the store and Henk again “retired”. She didn’t stay retired for long.
“I saw a volunteer sign at one of the grocery stores and thought I’d check it out,” Henk said.
She volunteered with the Good Samaritan Society. Wanting to do more, Henk eventually became a certified practical nurse and landed a paid position with the facility, eventually serving for several years as director of activities.
Like many people, Henk reconsidered her situation when COVID-19 hit and she took a step back for a while.
“I would take a bullet for these people,” Henk said. “But I don’t want to be that ball.”
It didn’t last long, however, and she recently started working as a palliative care coordinator for the Nisswa Good Samaritan Society. Nor could she stay away from her old stomping ground in Pine River.
Since Thanksgiving, she has regularly decorated the halls of Pine River Institution where she still has friends among the residents from her years as director of activities.
Henk hopes that all these different experiences will give him the necessary knowledge to serve on the board of PRASD. Working in various positions, she already has some ideas, but she wants to know more about the board, its people and its operations before making any recommendations.
Travis Grimler is a weekly editor for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He can be reached at 218-855-5853 or [email protected]