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. His own 46-year career at FSDB included teaching vocational courses and as an assistant dorm supervisor. The Cary White Sr. Complex is named in his honor.
Henry White returned home from Southern in 1960 with a degree in physical education. Jobs were scarce. His father knew an FSDB teacher who had resigned. He suggested White apply. White was hired to teach in the deaf elementary school. He also organized the elementary physical education program.
White moved through FSDB’s teaching and coaching ranks, earned two masters’ degrees, and advanced in administrative positions.
Cheryl Johnson coached girls’ track and field in her 40-year career there. White coached boys’ track and field. Their students trained together.
“Each day, Hank would have a list of drills ready for the students to do before practice,” she said. “It did not matter which part of track and field you participated in; everybody ran. For example, if your ran the 100-yard dash, you would run 440 yards and build up your stamina and strength.”
Both teams frequently won championships. Many also participated in the World Games for the Deaf.
In 1964, White was named Mythical Coach of the Year after the FSDB team won the national deaf track and field championship. From 1969 to 1985, he was one of the USA Team coaches at the World Games for the Deaf, held every four years. He coached World Games in Yugoslavia, Sweden, Romania, Germany and Los Angeles. In 1985, he also was USA Track and Field Team director.
He and the athletes enjoyed those experiences because they competed with athletes and coaches worldwide.
White’s running drills, too, ensured FSDB’s track and field athletes were fit overall. “Hank was an excellent coach. He prepared the kids to succeed,” Johnson said. “Hank has a big heart.”
Wife: Viola Webber White. Children: Henry Louis White Jr. and Cameron Dale White (deceased). Sister: Virginia J. White. Parents: Cary A. White Sr. and Jennie Lee Nelson White (both deceased). Brother: Cary A. White Jr. (deceased).
Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind teacher, coach, administrator, 41 years, retired 2005. Deaf department teaching positions: fifth grade; physical education; driver’s education. Coached football, basketball, track and field. Deaf department supervisory positions: supervising teacher of physical education; assistant principal; director of student life. Blind department, director of student life.
Bachelor of science in physical education, Southern University, Baton Rouge, 1960. Master’s degree in physical education, Tennessee State University. Master’s degree in educational administration, University of North Florida. Further studies: Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.; Smith College, Northhampton, Massachusetts.
Honors and recognitions
Mythical Track Coach of the Year for the USA Schools for the Deaf, 1964; Florida Athletic Coaches Association, Distinguished and Meritorious Service Award in high school athletics, 1971; Boss of the Year, Professional Secretaries Association, St. Augustine Chapter, 1986; St. Johns County School District Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002; Living Legend, Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, 2019.
Organizer/first president, St. Benedict the Moor School Restoration Committee, 1990s; life member, Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center; life member, Fort Mose Historical Society; member, St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church; past and present memberships: YMCA; Golden Tee; Venetian Club; St. Augustine Jaycees. Former coach: Little League; T-ball; and softball.
What motivated your community involvement? The Sisters of St. Joseph showed the care that they gave us as students. As an adult, I wanted to be in organizations that served and supported the youth and the community of St. Augustine.
What is your advice to others to get involved? Help others however you can. People helped me when I was growing up.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To inquire about enrollment eligibility or schedule a campus tour, contact Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information about FSDB, visit www.fsdbk12.org.