Alberta Henry 1920 - 2005

If not for a ruptured appendix, Alberta Henry probably never would have settled in Utah. As it was, she came to Salt Lake City to stay with friends and recover. That was 1949. She never left.

For a young African-American woman born in Louisiana to a family of sharecroppers and raised in Kansas, Utah seemed an unlikely spot to settle down. At the time, there were few minority groups in the state, whose population was overwhelmingly white. But she was convinced that God wanted her to be there. "It was part of His plan," she said.

A vivacious, deeply religious woman, Alberta Henry fervently believed in the notion of community, and became committed to creating a more equitable, culturally diverse society in Utah.

Alberta Henry found work as a domestic employee for A. Wally Sandack, a local attorney and politician, and his wife, Helen, who became her close friends and subsequent Foundation supporters. Alberta Henry and Helen Sandack At her Baptist church, she became involved in civic affairs, and met Harold Lloyd Henry, who she would marry in 1950. They adopted two children, a boy (Wendell) and a girl (Julia).

In 1950s Utah, African-Americans were restricted to low-paying jobs in the service industry, and Alberta Henry felt that the potential of African-American youth was not being fulfilled. When four African-American students were identified by the local Baptist community as needing help to attend college, she rallied, turning her energies toward fundraising and, at the same time, raising the level of community awareness about African-Americans and other minorities.

Her efforts ultimately led to the establishment of the Alberta Henry Education Foundation in 1967. The Sandacks and Mrs. Virginia Hiatt, a representative of Church Women United, helped bring in financial donations, support, and interested mentors such as Boyer Jarvis, James Rock, and Florence Lawrence.  The Foundation's purpose was and continues to be to provide economically disadvantaged students the opportunity for a college education.

Since then, the Foundation has helped hundreds of these students pursue and obtain higher education in Utah. The Foundation's board members are composed of volunteers from the community as well as several current and former Foundation recipients. Together, they screen prospective students, share their experiences, and give advice about the application process. The board, explains current chair Ronald Coleman, associate professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Utah, is a collection of "volunteers who admire and loved Alberta and who have a personal commitment to educating all of our children. Education is a core value of American society, but, unfortunately, too many of our young people are not able to fulfill their potential because of a lack of resources. Alberta was committed to changing that. She believed we have a responsibility to 'put something back into the well from which we have drawn.

It had been Alberta Henry's dream that one day the students who benefitted from the Foundation would go on to steer it and her dream has been realized. With the Foundation's help, former recipient Shauna Graves-Robertson pursued a graduate education in law. She serves as a judge with the Salt Lake County Justice Court and sits on the Foundation's board. "The most impressive thing about the Foundation," says Graves-Robertson, "is that it doesn't just look at a student's grades, but at need. We ask, 'How can we have the greatest impact?' and look for the student who has potential but needs mentoring." Tamara Taylor, a University of Utah administrator, Foundation board member, and former Foundation recipient, says, "My work on the board exemplifies the spirit of Mrs. Henry's work. The Foundation believed in me, saw that I had academic promise, and wanted me to succeed. Now I am giving back to ensure that students who might fall through the cracks are able to fulfill their academic dreams. Continuing the legacy is so important."

Alberta Henry got her start in education by working in the Head Start program and later, for more than 15 years, as community relations coordinator with the Salt Lake City School District, where she was known for her mediating skills, earning respect for her level-headedness and integrity.

She was also deeply involved in civic affairs. For 12 years, she was president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, and served as chair of the Utah Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1975-79) and the Governor's Black Policy Advisory Council (1974-76). She was a member of the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of the Utah State Bar, the Utah Health Advisory Council, the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, and the Brookings Institute Wasatch Front, to name a few.

For her efforts as a civic leader, Alberta Henry received numerous awards and tributes, including an honorary degree from the University of Utah in 1971 the first African-American to be so honored. Encouraged by this, she completed her bachelor's degree in secondary education in 1980 at the age of 59.