Hannibal Tree Board honors local journalist by planting tree in Central Park

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Danny and Nancy Henley hold up a proclamation from Hannibal Mayor James Hark honoring Danny Henley's 37-year career as a Hannibal journalist. Photo by Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Now taking root in the soil at Central Park is a newly planted tree the Hannibal Tree Board planted on Friday afternoon in observance of National Arbor Day. 

Kristy Trevathan, director of the Hannibal Tree Board, said the tree is an overcup white oak, which is resistant to disease and thrives in high-traffic areas.

“It’s a good tree,” she said. “Oaks are now known as the keystone species because they provide a lot of caterpillars and moths and all of these types of things that baby birds eat.”

Elementary school students from St. Johns Lutheran and Eugene Field gathered to learn more about the importance of trees, as a requirement of Hannibal’s 24-years as a Tree City USA. 

Not only was the tree planted to observe National Arbor Day but also to recognize the career of a man also deeply rooted in the Hannibal community. 

Central Park filled with family, friends and members of the community in honor of former journalist Danny Henley’s service to Hannibal. 

Henley made writing the stories of Hannibal his own life story as a reporter for the Hannibal Courier-Post for 37 years.

Trevathan spoke about Henley’s personal connection to the tree board. 

“He was our friend. He was there at 8 a.m. every month for our meetings,” she said. “He kept us informed for years and years.”    

Henley came to Hannibal in 1985 and after a radio stint announcing sports, he took an editorial job with Hannibal Courier-Post.

There, he covered sports with both Hannibal High School and Hannibal LaGrange University, along with covering community affairs and feature writing. 

As Trevathan spoke of Henley’s career, accomplishments and service to the local area, he and his wife Nancy sat side-by-side, with emotions from Trevathan’s words surfacing on their faces.   

Henley, who in his last years as a journalist suffered with Parkinson’s disease, said he could not have done it without Nancy.

“We are a team,” he said.

Nancy echoed his words with a smile.

“It’s been neat seeing the community and getting to experience all the wonderful people,” she said. “There have been a lot of good things going on and he always tried to share that. I was glad he was able to.”

Henley said it was hard to pick a favorite story. He mentioned the Flood of ‘93 and the building of the flood walls as impactful times during his career.

He also received a number of awards with the Missouri Associated Press, including first place in photography and second place in investigative journalism.

“There were several stories that would impact and inform the community, which would help create action for progress or change,” Nancy said.

When Andy Dorian, director of Hannibal Parks and Recreation, spoke, he recalled Henley as hardworking and fair.

His son, Jacob Henley, said he received many compliments about his father over the years. 

“I can think back to even a decade ago when I got to go around and meet different city people independent of what he was doing,” he said. “As soon as they heard my last name was Henley, they would always ask if I was related to Danny. They just had a really high esteem for the integrity he brought because he always tried to be fair.”

Henley also crafted 1,392 personal columns in his weekly column, “A Little Salt.” In it, he wrote about the daily life of family and marriage. 

“I tried to write things that people could relate to. They would read it and say ‘Yeah, I remember when my kids did that,’” Henley said.

Another aspect of his column was his faith. The community he wrote about, he also wanted to be a witness to. 

“The goal was to witness to the community,” he said. “The bible says we are supposed to be salt and light. I tried to be a little salt.”

Sarah Guilford, a friend of the Henley family, described Henley as kind and grateful. She said his faith is something that will resonate for a long time in Hannibal.

“The scriptures tell us that no word comes back without bearing fruit and when you think about all of the biblical words he has written for how many years and you think of the ripple effect that has made in eternal life,” she said.

Two special lives Henley has influenced are Evelyn Henley and Alice Henley, his granddaughters.

Evelyn, 9, said the day was special to her.

“I rarely get to come to Hannibal and it’s a special day,” she said.

When asked about her grandpa’s stories Evelyn smiled, “I think they are really interesting. They are not humorous but they are facts and love.”

Five-year-old Alice was excited to celebrate her grandpa and also to play with her cousins who came from St. Louis.

Both girls loved the tree and Evelyn hopes it grows big enough to climb one day.

Students from Eugene Field and St. John’s Lutheran helped cover the tree with soil. The Hannibal Tree Board has planted just over 100 trees this year in Hannibal, including 93 planted on a flood plain on South Main last month.

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