Henry White Sr. has been a teacher, coach, administrator
Editor’s note: This is the first story in The Record’s annual "10 Who Make a Difference" series during which we highlight a volunteer who has made a significant impact on our community.
Henry L. White Sr. credits 60-plus years of community service and helping youth succeed to the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
At St. Benedict the Moor School in the 1940s, the sisters shaped White’s Catholic faith and, by example, his community service commitment.
White, 84, is among the 2020-21 recipients of “10 Who Make a Difference in St. Johns County” recognized annually by The St. Augustine Record.
He spent 41 years at FSDB — as a teacher, coach and administrator — where he helped youth succeed.
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Early in his life, his parents, Cary Sr. and Jennie Lee White, ensured his future success. They were deaf. White and his siblings, Cary Jr. and Virginia, had hearing.
White said his parents, both teachers of the deaf, knew their children needed to develop speech and hearing skills before entering school. They sent their sons to live with their hearing grandparents, P.J. and Fannie White, in Marianna, Florida. Virginia stayed with neighbors while her parents worked. After Grandmother White died in 1944, the boys returned home.
White attended St. Benedict’s from second through sixth grade. He wanted to play football and enrolled at Excelsior School in seventh grade. He graduated in 1956 from Richard J. Murray High School, earning his diploma and a football scholarship to Southern University, Baton Rouge. He also played on Southern’s golf team, applying skills he learned while caddying at the Ponce de Leon Golf Club.
Renovating St. Benedict's
He never forgot the Sisters of St. Joseph. In the early 1990s, White organized St. Benedict’s alumni and community members to save the school building.
“I did it for the Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught me at St. Benedict’s about helping others,” he said.
He got the go-ahead from then-Cathedral Parish pastor, Rev. Robert J. Baker, after he presented a plan for repairs, expenses, fundraising and future uses for the building. The committee’s first grant was a state preservation grant-in-aid for $47,000 for the first step: Stabilizing the building.
Thomas Jackson, a former student, succeeded White.
“Hank got us the first state grant. He had all the administrative skills from his job at FSDB. He knew how to keep financial records and project reports in order.
“The first grant is all important because you have to win over the [state] committee to get funded,” Jackson said. “You have to show you have a good plan, that you know how to execute it, and that you are capable of carrying out the project.”
Jackson said the committee continues to work with community partners to complete the renovation.
Following in his family's footsteps
White’s 41 years at FSDB began with a tip from his father. Cary Sr. was the school’s first Black graduate in 1924.