Dr. Donald Lentz Henson, Sr.

Published 10:08 am Monday, September 19, 2011

CHAPEL HILL – Dr. Donald Lentz Henson, Sr., 88, of Chapel Hill, NC passed away on September 17, 2011 at the DuBose Health Center of The Cedars of Chapel Hill after an extended illness.  Don will be remembered as a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, friend, dentist and entrepreneur.

Don met the love of his life, Alexandra (Sandra) Long and they were married on June 13, 1975.  He will be missed greatly by so many including his wife Alexandra (Sandra); son, Donald Lentz Henson, Jr., wife Debra and granddaughter Ava Christian Henson of Johnson City, TN; daughter, Jane Henson Tyer, husband Wayne and grandsons John Lentz Tyer and Donald Henson Tyer of Kinston, NC; daughter, Sandra W. Stewart and husband Randall of Chapin, SC and grandchildren Kenneth Wade Knapp II (Greensboro, NC), Alexander Henson Knapp (Arlington, VA), Randall Lentz Stewart and Anne Lucille Stewart of the home; and daughter, Virginia K. Milam and husband Paul and granddaughters Henson Alexandra Milam and Alley Katherine Milam  of Summerfield, NC; and his brother, Joseph B. Henson, Jr. and wife Carolyn of Greensboro, NC.

He was born in Dallas, NC on June 24, 1923, the sixth son of Joseph Baucom Henson and Maude Lentz Henson.  He lived in Murfreesboro, NC (1928-36) and graduated from high school in Snow Hill, NC (1941). Along with his five brothers and his father as coach, the Henson boys developed a family basketball team that competed other teams in the Wilson, NC area from 1936-1940.   Like many of his brothers, Don attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, entering in September of 1941, as a work study student fully engaged in his studies and extracurricular activities as Captain of the Freshman Basketball Team (1941-42); Sophomore Representative of Student Council (1942-43); Order of the Holy Grail (1943).

With WWII raging, he interrupted his studies to join the U.S. Naval Reserve serving at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL (1943-44), received his Ensign Commission at the University of Notre Dame in 1945, and served as shore duty officer in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Don completed his Navy commitment and received an honorable discharge.  Upon returning to UNC, he became a member of the varsity basketball team (1946-47).  Thereafter, Don attended the University of Pennsylvania School Of Dentistry where he graduated in 1951.

Soon after establishing his dental office in Kinston, NC, Don started taking courses in pediatric dentistry at UNC-CH which led to his specializing in pediatric dentistry in 1957.  Don was known for his kindness, love and respect for his young patients.  Don’s passion and desire to help others prompted him to join several of his colleagues on a mission trip to the African Congo to provide dental services to many underprivileged individuals (1968).

From his desire to stay current in his profession, he founded the Yaupon Dental Society and served as the president (1951-68).  He served as president of the NC Society of Dentistry for Children (1962), founded and served as the president of the Demerritt Pedodontic Study Club (1960-75).  He went on to become a fellow of the Academy of Dentistry International.

For a short time in the early 1970s, Don acted on his curiosity and interest in the stock market to become an investment broker.  With the crash in the mid-70s, he reopened his dental practice and began participating in an “on-call” service to treat after-hours dental emergencies.  While participating in this service, he began to provide follow-up care treatment to lower income individuals who had received low-fee denture services. He believed there was a need for a low-fee denture service in the Kinston area which provided adequate patient care.   In October 1975, in a small white wooden house on East Vernon Avenue in Kinston, he and Dr. George L. Edwards, Jr., co-founded Affordable Dentures.  Their vision, a practice focused primarily on dentures and related services, such as extractions, with an on-site lab to enable providing same day service, grew to today’s Affordable Care corporation supporting a group of 170 Affordable Dentures centers in 40 states and Puerto Rico and serving more than 5 million patients.

Don believed in supporting the communities in which he lived.  He was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award by the Kinston Chamber of Commerce (1964),  was recognized for his outstanding leadership as co-chairman on the committee to establish Lenoir County Community College (1968) and was appointed campaign chair for the United Fund (1969).  Don was also active in and supported the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina for many years and he served as vice-president (1963-64). As a member of the Jaycees he co-chair of the Soap Box Derby in Kinston for 2 years. For over 40 years he actively served the Rotary, becoming Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.  Don gladly served on the Murfreesboro Historical Commission where he was appointed by Governor James Hunt.

At UNC, he is remembered for his generous funding of the Dr. Donald Henson and Mrs. Alexandra Henson Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Dentistry and an exam room at the UNC Dental Facility for wheelchair-bound patients. His service to the University includes serving on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the UNC-CH Educational Foundation (1984-1993), and as the President of the Educational Foundation (1990-1991). He was on the UNC Board of Visitors (1991-95) and the UNC School of Dentistry Bicentennial Campaign Steering Committee (1991-95) as well as a long-time supporter of athletics.

Strong in his faith, he was a founding member in 1951 of Westminster Methodist Church in Kinston as well as founding member and administrative board member of Christ United Methodist Church at Southern Village in Chapel Hill, NC.   Don’s love of music motivated him to bring the NC Symphony to the Southern Village community for an annual concert.

Don was known for his gracious hospitality, warmth, humor and incredible generosity. As one of his dear friends stated, “Don is one of the most giving individuals I have ever known”.  His loving and giving nature showed in his support of his family, often spending time with them fishing, numerous road trips, attending UNC basketball and football games, buoying their spirits in times of disappointment and believing in their goodness and abilities.  To his many friends he was always remembered for his jokes and stories, his love and support of UNC, his own prowess as a rebounder on the basketball court, and his commitment to the service of others.

He was preceded in death by step-daughter Elizabeth Virginia Whitaker and brothers Thomas A. Henson, Robert L. Henson, James L. Henson and Marshall F. Henson.

In lieu of flowers, should you wish to honor Don, please consider a memorial contribution to the Henson-Long Family Foundation501(c)(3) c/o Wells Fargo Family Wealth, One West Fourth Street (D4000-015), Winston-Salem, NC  27101 to continue the legacy of caring for others, created by Don and Sandra’s current philanthropic actions or to Christ United Methodist Church, 800 Market Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

The family wishes to thank all of his friends, the members of Christ United Methodist Church  and the following caregivers; Addie Nunn who faithfully cared for Don for 10 years; the staff of the DuBose Health Center; Visiting Angels and Golden Elder Care, who have provided love, prayers and support to Don and his family during his illness.

Graveside services were held on Sunday, September 18 at the Forest Lawn Cemetery, 3901 Forest Lawn Drive, Greensboro, NC.  A Memorial service was held on Monday, September 19 at Christ United Methodist Church, 800 Market Street, Chapel Hill. The celebration of Dr. Henson’s life will continue at Chapel Hill Country Club following this service.