Benevolent Queen Nan

Former Camas mayor adds ‘Royal Court Queen’ to already impressive resume

Be a part of the Camas Days parade in July

The community is invited to be a part of this year's Camas Days parade, which begins at 11 a.m., Saturday, July 22, in downtown Camas. Parade applications are due Friday, July 7. For an application, call 360-834-2472 or visit www.cwchamber.com.

The annual parade includes a variety of entries, from floats, classic cars and clowns to bands, drill teams, dance troupes and walking groups. Participants are encouraged to dress and decorate their parade entries according to this year's Camas Days theme: Once Upon a Time.

Camas Days, set for Friday and Saturday, July 21-22, is the largest festival in east Clark County and features the parade as well as a children's parade, bathtub races, live music concerts at Crown Park, art and craft vendors, a wine and microbrew street, children's events and activities and a food court.

Camas Days 2017 Senior Royalty Coronation

What: Coronation of 2017 Royal Court and Queen Nan Henriksen plus a dessert reception

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, July 12

Where: Columbia Ridge Senior Living, 2300 W. Ninth St., Washougal

Cost: $5 per person

Sponsors: Columbia Ridge Senior Living

Hosts: General Federation of Women's Club, Camas-Washougal

For more information: Call Christine Kamps at 360-921-9977

Nan Henriksen is sitting in a remote corner of a downtown Camas cafe, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. But that doesn’t stop well-wishers from shouting “Hi, Nan!” to the woman who was once named Camas’ “Political Leader of the Century” as soon as they spot her.

“We could have sat outside, but I thought this would be less distracting,” Henriksen explains to the reporter who has arrived to chat about Henriksen’s most recent honor — queen of the 2017 Camas Days Royal Court.

“I’ve been named a lot of things, but I’ve never been named queen before,” Henriksen says, laughing.

“I should probably be working on my wave,” she adds, waving wildly with gleeful abandon instead of delicately, from the wrist, like a proper royal. “But I’ll probably just wave the way I always do!”

Another thing you probably won’t see from this Royal Court leader? Princess attire.

Although she admits that a queenly cape might be kind of cool, Henriksen says she has approximately one dress fit for a queen.

“I hope they let me wear my regular clothes,” Henriksen says. “I’ve never been a princess type of girl!”

Maybe not, but Henriksen has been many things that are far more impressive than “princess,” including: valedictorian of her Camas High class of 1960; “most likely to succeed;” a University of Washington graduate; business owner; mother of three; Camas City Council member; mayor of Camas; a 12-year member of the powerful Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board; the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s “Statesman of the Year;” Camas’ “Political Leader of the Century;” the first Camas-Washougal resident to earn Clark County’s prestigious “First Citizen” award; the leader of the Freeholder’s Committee that revamped Clark County’s government structure in favor of a more equitable and transparent county council; and, now, Camas’ queen.

“I have known her personally for several years and find that she is a woman of honesty and integrity,” Camas Parks and Recreation Commission member Eunice Abrahamsen stated in her letter to the General Federation of Women’s Club, Camas-Washougal, nominating Henriksen as this year’s Senior Royalty Queen. “Her accomplishments have been impressive … (and) she has willingly served her community and state.”

Abrahamsen outlined Henriksen’s many accomplishments in her nomination letter, noting that present-day Camas residents have the former mayor to thank for their city’s current prosperity and popularity: “Nan was a recognized trailblazer of the high-tech manufacturing hub … when Nan became mayor of Camas, it was a pivotal time. The Georgia-Pacific mill threatened to close. The city was dependent on the revenue from the mill. Disaster awaited (and) Nan rallied the council, they annexed Prune Hill, rezoned and invested in infrastructure. Needless to say, we are now a thriving community thanks to Nan’s leadership.”

It’s a familiar story for anyone familiar with Camas’ political history — Henriksen realized that her hometown had put all its eggs into one basket with its paper mill-based economy and she fought to change history by setting the city up to attract high-tech companies that paid living wages, like SHARP Microelectronics, WaferTech and Underwriters Laboratory.

Camas’ current mayor, Scott Higgins, echoed this sentiment in a video presented at a 2015 awards banquet honoring Henriksen as Clark County’s “First Citizen,” an honor bestowed on an individual who has demonstrated an extraordinary level of community service.

“Nan knew that we couldn’t remain a mill town forever,” Higgins said. “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 is well aware that she’s become sort of a cult figure around Clark County, but she wants people to know that she didn’t walk this path alone.

“I may have been the one who had a fire in her gut to get things done, but no one can do this all by herself,” Henriksen says. “I helped. But it took a lot of folks to get here.”

In fact, she credits Lloyd Halverson, the city administrator she hired to help her run Camas in the late 1980s, with taking her vision for having more green, open parks and recreation areas and running with it.

“Lloyd stayed on through three more mayors after I left and he took the trails and open spaces program and kept it headed in the right direction,” Henriksen says.

Looking back, it’s also easy for people to rewrite a nicer, kinder version of history, Henriksen says. But her struggle to diversify Camas wasn’t simple. In fact, she says, there were many people who thought she was mad for suggesting that the city needed more than just the mill to power its economy.

“When I graduated from high school, you could have OK grades, walk down the hill and get a job (at the mill) that paid a good wage and had benefits,” Henriksen says. “There were a lot of people who could see that other places had (lost their economy after a mill closed), but they thought it couldn’t happen here. When you’ve been living in a very comfortable community, it’s difficult to see a new picture … and there were a lot of folks who thought (diversifying) was a terrible idea.”

Plus, Henriksen says, powering through the old-boys club in a mill town as a woman and, at that point, single mother of three teenagers, wasn’t exactly a cake walk. When she and a group of other professional Camas-area women formed a group to help each other thrive in male-dominated fields, they called themselves “The Pushy Broads,” because “that’s what the men were probably calling us,” Henriksen says.

“And then I formed a group of women in politics and women who wanted to run (for public office) and we called ourselves ‘The Underwires’ because we supported each other,” she adds, laughing and attracting another round of “Hi, Nan”s from a nearby table of “Nan Fans” sitting inside the cafe.

But even though she doesn’t want to take all of the credit for her hometown’s transformation from mill town on the edge to a bustling small city with sought-after real estate, a thriving downtown and one of the best school districts in the state, Henriksen says she feels blessed to have contributed so much to the town she’s always called home.

Ironically, Henriksen says she never really thought she would come back to Camas to live out her adult years after she left for college.

“I thought maybe I’d live in Seattle, because I really liked it there when I was at UW,” she says. “I never saw myself living in Camas.”

But as a young mother, Henriksen quickly realized the value in having family close by and says she was lucky to live in Camas when her daughter and two sons were little.

“I believed that, as soon as my kids were raised, that I’d move, maybe back to Seattle,” Henriksen says.

But of course, by that point, the former mayor was already too invested and too infatuated with her hometown to go anywhere else.

Today, Camas’ queen lives in the western part of the city, in a small house that she says is not at all suitable for “aging in place,” but that, nevertheless, feeds her soul with its sweeping views of the river and mountain and its proximity to the people she loves and the places she has helped shape.

“Now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Henriksen says.