Jennifer Elizabeth Henke
(1946 – 2014)
Jennifer Elizabeth Henke of Richmond, California, died on December 27, 2014 in El Cerrito, California, of pancreatic cancer. She was 68 years old.
Jennifer was born in San Francisco in April 1946, daughter of Hans and Susan Jacobsen. She grew up in Daly City, California. Jenny was youngest of eight siblings: one brother, two half-brothers, and four half-sisters (which works out to two sisters and two brothers, she calculated in elementary school). With so many older siblings, Jenny often felt as if she had extra parents to look after her. Her brother tells that she quickly became the family darling and was doted on by everyone. As a child and teenager, she took trips around the country to visit her older sisters, traveling alone to New Jersey, San Diego, Massachusetts, Milwaukee, and Hawaii.
After high school, Jenny crossed the bay to attend college at the University of California, Berkeley. She attended Berkeley from 1964 to 1966, a period marked by the landmark Free Speech Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and anti-Vietnam War protests. In college, Jenny was active in the Assemblies of God’s campus Christian group Chi Alpha, where she forged many life-long friendships.
In Berkeley, she met Curtis James Henke and they were married in December 1967 in Berkeley. Curt and Jenny had two children: Jonathan was born in 1972 and Natasha was born in 1975. Jenny stood by Curt’s side for his many long years in graduate school, and when he was drafted into the army in 1969, she followed him to South Korea for a year. On the army base, Jenny mastered her table tennis game; the GIs were often shocked to be beaten so soundly by a woman.
The young couple was often found camping or hiking in the Sierras or around California, both before and after their kids were born. Jenny’s creative projects with her children included baking a life-size gingerbread girl for Natasha’s 4th birthday and making many elaborate Halloween costumes for both children. Neighbor kids were surprised to discover that it was she who built the kids’ bunk beds, not Curt.
Jenny worked for many years at the UC San Francisco Medical Center as a computer programmer on the STOR system, a pioneering computerized medical record. She retired from UCSF in 2004.
Throughout her adult life, Jenny was active in her church: first at Glad Tidings Temple in San Francisco, then at Hilltop Community Church in Richmond, California, and finally, since 1987, at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California. At First Pres., Jenny was a stalwart member of the Chancel Choir, singing in the front row of the alto section for over a quarter century. She was a member of Mariners and of Sunday Morning Study, and served on the church session as a ruling elder from 2011 to 2014.
One of her greatest passions was church drama. When her children were young, Jenny directed many children’s musicals including The Music Machine and Ants’hillvania. At First Pres., she led productions of Cotton Patch Gospel, Godspell, Spread Your Garment Over Me, The Journey with Jonah, A Christmas Carol, The Complete History of the Old Testament in 20 Minutes, and more. She also acted in Candles in the Window and in community productions of Arsenic and Old Lace, The Sound of Music, and more.
In 1997, with both kids out of college, Jenny set off on an adventure, traveling for the first time to the Faroe Islands, the small North Atlantic island group where her father had been born and raised. She was hoping to find her father’s family, 75 years after he lost touch with them. She arrived with only a few letters written to her father in the early 1900s and the name of the city where he was born. After several short phone calls, she discovered a large family in the Faroes who loved and remembered her father, and who were overjoyed to meet her. Over the next seventeen years, the Faroe Islands became her second home; she visited nearly every year and lived there for an entire year in 2005–6. In the Faroe Islands, she nurtured her love of photography, and scores of her photos and travel stories can be found at jenniferhenke.com. She wrote of her adventures that first year and the discovery of her father’s history in her book, The Missing Son: A Faroe Island Saga.
During the past five years, Jenny became especially close to her grandson Eliott Jacob, whom she cared for two days a week. They had many adventures together: going to the library, building elaborate train tracks, making creations with legos, and riding scooters and bikes. (Actually, Jenny usually chased while Eliott rode.) Her biggest sadness during the months of her illness was knowing that she wouldn’t be there to see Eliott grow up.
While traveling in the Faroe Islands in summer 2014, Jenny began to feel sick. She was hospitalized in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, transported back to California, and diagnosed with with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. She had surgery to remove the tumor, but the cancer had already begun to spread and she declined quickly. She spent her final month living with her daughter’s family.
Jenny was preceded in death by her husband Curt, who died in 1999 at the age of 54, also of cancer; her siblings Stanley Miller, Erma Honsalek, and Roberta Mack; and her parents, Hans and Susan Jacobsen.
Jenny is survived by her daughter Natasha Jacob, son-in-law John Jacob, and grandson Eliott Jacob, all of El Cerrito, California; son Jonathan Henke and his partner Blake Couey, of St. Peter, Minnesota; brother Peter Jacobsen, of Prunedale, California; brother Harold Miller, of Medford, Oregon; sister Susan Story, of Dallas, Texas; and sister Miriam Massey, of Denair, California.
If desired, memorial gifts may be made to:
First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley
Attn: Chancel Choir Tour
2407 Dana St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
Contra Costa Civic Theater
951 Pomona Ave.
El Cerrito, CA 94530