More than 250 “Nan fans” turned out to honor this year’s First Citizen.
Former Camas Mayor Nan Henriksen was selected for the award, Clark County’s highest distinction of citizenship, presented to an individual for demonstrating exemplary service to the community.
She was chosen by a volunteer committee made up of area leaders and past recipients, in recognition of her personal and professional contributions to the region.
Henriksen is the first honoree to hail from Camas, since the inception of the award in 1939.
This year’s ceremony, held Oct. 20 at the Vancouver Hilton, began with a bang as musicians from the Camas High School Marching Band entered the venue flash-mob style playing the Papermakers’ Fight Song in tribute to Henriksen, one of the schools’ notable alumni. Led by the CHS cheerleaders, attendees clapped along and waved heart-shaped fans printed with the slogan, “I’m a Nan fan!”
Henriksen, a mother, former businesswoman and Camas’ first female mayor, led the city from 1983 to 1992. During this time, she placed a strong focus on diversifying what at the time was a small town with a largely paper mill-dependent economy. She led Camas in attracting three major industries and dozens of employers including Underwriters Laboratories, SHARP Microelectronics, WaferTech and Heraeus Shin-etsu.
“Nan knew that we couldn’t remain a mill town forever,” said current Mayor Scott Higgins during a video presentation played at the event. “She recognized that we needed to diversify our economy, and that changed Camas forever. It is left behind in her legacy in everything we do today.”
Henriksen, 73, was appointed to serve on the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, from 1992 to 2004, where she helped mediate land-use disputes. She was also the owner and operator of Sav-on Drugs/Nan’s Hallmark in Camas from 1976 to 1990.
In November 2013, Henriksen was elected by voters to the 15-member Clark County Board of Freeholders. The group appointed her chairwoman, and she led the creation of Clark County’s home-rule charter that reshaped local government.
Former Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris, co-chair of a bipartisan group that campaigned to get the measure passed, and retired Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas, a member of the Board of Freeholders, nominated Henriksen for the First Citizen award.
Morris did not know Henriksen well before they began working closely during the charter process. It was an effort that brought together people of many different backgrounds.
“She ran the meetings with an iron fist, but she kept it securely wrapped in a velvet glove,” Morris said. “And those are marvelous talents.”
She described Henriksen’s leadership abilities as a perfect balance of many powerful traits.
“She is bold, but she’s not reckless. She’s confident, but she’s not arrogant,” Morris explained. “She strong, but she’s not brittle, and she’s tender, but she’s no pushover.”
Lucas, also a CHS graduate, has known Henriksen for 64 years. His dad, Donald Lucas, ran a small restaurant in Camas, and her father, George Henriksen, owned a nearby pharmacy.
“When we were in school she was a leader,” he said. “I have known her as a woman of good character and integrity, a successful businesswoman, an articulate and persuasive visionary, a builder of community, a builder of consensus, a mediator, a fair-minded woman not afraid to face hard issues, a community leader and a great mom.”
Henriksen described her parents as major influences in her life.
“I was raised in a household where service to community and service to country was mandatory, not optional,” she said. “And from the time I was a toddler, I wanted to be just like my dad, who gave his all for his community and his country.”
When elected mayor, Henriksen was working full-time and parenting three teenagers on her own.
When her daughter Kris was 15 years old, she wondered with frustration why her mother couldn’t just be “normal.”
“What she didn’t realize is that I tried so hard in 14 years in an unfortunate marriage to be normal, and it almost killed me,” Henriksen said. “I could no longer keep my god-given light under a bushel basket. My community needed me, and I needed my community.”
With her daughter, as well as her two sons and many other relatives, in the crowd she described how supportive her family was over the years.
“During her adult life, Kris has been my No. 1 fan and cheerleader,” Henriksen said. “The more bold and bad-ass I become, the happier and prouder she is.”
She explained that while achieving a lofty set of goals takes a clear, concise vision, it also takes hard work, passion, an ability to bring together the right people, and what she described as “fire in the gut.”
“You really need all those other people that are dedicated, hard-working and willing to work together to reach the vision,” she said. “I’ve always said that a good vision is not going to get you far if you don’t have your hearts, your souls, your passion and your perseverance wrapped around it.”
Tami Nesburg, executive vice president and regional manager of Regents Bank, the event’s presenting sponsor, thanked Henriksen for her contributions.
“As we all know, Nan certainly embodies all that we strive to be, and all we wish to pass on to our next generation,” she said. “Our heartfelt thanks to Nan for a lifetime of tireless work making our community, a much, much better place.”