Henry Malloch Grennan Thursday, July 30, 1936 - Monday, May 1, 2017
Henry Malloch Grennan of Santa Maria — a devoted family man, educator and community member — passed away on May 1 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 80 years old but forever young at heart. Henry truly made the world a better place with his wit, warmth and optimism. He will be sorely missed.
Born July 30, 1936, in Santa Barbara, Henry grew up in the Northern California towns of Alturus and Marysville before moving to Santa Maria in 1954. The next four years were spent as a U.S. Marine at Camp Pendleton. After his military stint, he returned to Santa Maria, making it his home for good, in 1959. While attending Allan Hancock College, Henry met Beverly Eggler. They married in 1961 and together they had five children: Patrick (deceased), John, Paul, Julie and James.
He earned his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, then followed the footsteps of his mother, Henrietta Wickenden, into education. Being an advocate for children became his life’s passion. He landed his first teaching assignment in Arroyo Grande in 1964 before taking a position at Robert Bruce School in 1966. After spending 11 years in the classroom and returning to Cal Poly to earn his master’s degree, Henry went on to serve as principal at five other schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. Co-workers will remember him as an “outside-the-box” thinker and champion of the underdog; the theme of his retirement party, after 32 years in education, was Sinatra’s “My Way.” Henry approached each problem with the question, “What is best for the students?” He touched countless lives as an educator, and it was hard to go anywhere in Santa Maria without running into one of his former students or co-workers. In “retirement,” he worked for another 13 years at Chapman University, helping to groom the next generation of educators. He spent 12 years on the Allan Hancock Joint Community College Board of Trustees, ending his final term in 2012. Henry cared deeply for Hancock College. He was a fixture at Bulldog sporting events and PCPA productions, and he and Beverly continue to fund an AHC memorial scholarship in honor of their son Patrick.
Their son Paul was born with Down syndrome, and Henry threw himself into volunteer work for people with disabilities. He served as a chairman for the March of Dimes and Santa Maria Association for the Retarded, secretary for the state ARC board, and later as a longtime board member for the Vocational Training Center. He did lots of work with the Special Olympics of Santa Barbara County and even served as Paul’s teammate for Special Olympics bocce and golf. Speaking of Olympics, Henry was selected to run a stretch of the torch run for the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Henry was a loving, giving husband, father and grandfather. He was so proud of his children and grandchildren. Their No. 1 fan and greatest supporter, he attended countless sporting events and dance recitals over the years. Henry loved traditions – Fourth of July fireworks and parades, family trips, holiday celebrations – and he cherished time spent with family. Gatherings were always filled with a shared sense of humor and much laughter. He and Beverly passed along a love of camping to their children, and the Grennans and friends spent many memorable summers in Big Sur and Yosemite. You always knew when Henry had been down by the river because of the cairns (rock stacks) he loved to build. He enjoyed the outdoors, rafting, hiking and biking into his late 70s. Gifted with a green thumb, Henry turned his backyard into a garden oasis where he would enjoy a little slice of heaven surrounded by friends and family or by himself with See’s candy, a Jack and water, and big band music on the record player. He truly lived life to the fullest.
Henry kept active his whole life and shared that passion with others. He ran in multiple marathons and started youth running programs at several schools. He and Beverly enjoyed traveling with friends, and Henry always looked forward to golf outings, card games, going to the movies, and playing music. His house was filled with musical instruments, and Henry loved to sit at the piano, strum a guitar, play a melody on the recorder or tap away on bongos. His band of former educators, the El Camino River Bottom Band, serenaded him with one of his favorites, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” right before his passing.
But even more than music, perhaps, Henry loved books. Starting with The Hardy Boys series in his childhood, books were always a big part of his life, and after retiring as a principal he co-owned the Little White Duck bookstore and coffee shop in Orcutt. His house and garage were filled with books, and he was always making recommendations and sharing books with family and friends. Children’s books, however, held a special place in his heart, and he loved nothing more than reading to a grandchild snuggled on his lap. “The Selfish Giant” always brought tears to his eyes. In the past few months, several visitors sat and read to Henry from his large collection of children’s books.
Henry loved calling Santa Maria home, and he dedicated his life to helping others in the area. He was active in Head Start in the 1960s and 1970s, and his involvement earned him two trips to meet with presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He proudly served on the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Commission from 1986 until 2017. The commission recently honored his service by naming the sports fields at Oakley School after him. For over 50 years, Henry was a devoted parishioner at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, where he served as a musician, catechist, Eucharistic minister and lector.
Henry is survived by Beverly, his wife of 55 years; children John (wife Karin), Paul, Julie (husband Mike) and James (wife Cindy); grandchildren Meghan, Melissa, Emily, Rachel, Kate, Nathaniel, Riley, Emmet, Viviene, Matthew and Amanda; his siblings Paul Grennan and Vicki Van Houten; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his son Patrick and his mother, Henrietta Wickenden.
The Grennan family would like to thank Henry’s extended family and friends for their kind thoughts, words and deeds the past few months. Henry loved generously during his lifetime, and he certainly reaped what he sowed. A vigil will be held May 11 at 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. A funeral Mass will be held May 12 at 1:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s with a reception to follow the burial. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to one of Henry’s favorite charities: the Vocational Training Center, the Allan Hancock College Foundation, PLAY (People for Leisure and Youth) through the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department, or Hospice.