TARPON SPRINGS — For almost four decades, Kenneth Henderson has immortalized the high school experience.
As the yearbook adviser, Henderson has led a student staff through the collapse of the Skyway Bridge in the 1979-80 edition, helped capture the crowning of homecoming queens and the historical significance of President Barack Obama's 2008 election.
"Every yearbook is different and there is always something happening," said Henderson, 61. "I've been doing this for 39 years, and now it's time to close this chapter of my life. It was a hard decision to make."
After teaching eight years at Seminole High and 31 at Tarpon Springs High, where he was a 1967 graduate, Henderson is retiring. Every one of those years at Tarpon Springs High he was the yearbook adviser.
"He's the best teacher I've ever had," said local attorney Jerry Theophilopoulos, a 1986 Tarpon High graduate and the yearbook editor. "He was like having a second father in your life when you were in high school with him.
"He had such insight and any time he saw a student in his class that was starting to stray, he made sure he brought them back, putting him or her under his wing and guiding them in the right path."
Tarpon Springs Police Officer Taurean Mathis graduated from Tarpon High in 2002. He is now a resource officer at the school. Henderson was Mathis' English teacher.
"He was like a father to me," Mathis said. "He's the godfather to my son. He cares about you. He tells you how it is. He's hard, but he's fair."
Henderson earned an English Education degree in 1971 from Florida State University. After graduation, there was no room for him at Tarpon High so he took a job at Seminole High where he agreed to teach journalism.
He returned to his high school alma mater for the 1979-80 school year, where he taught English and was in charge of the school's yearbook, dubbed The Tarpon. Until seven years ago, Henderson was also in charge of the newspaper.
Henderson has been the chair of the English Department, the senior class adviser and one of the cooks for the senior class banquet and cookout.
Henderson's wife of 37 years, Nickollet, is a Tarpon Springs Middle School educator.
"He will be missed greatly," said Leah Miller, 17, a Tarpon Springs High junior and next year's yearbook editor-in-chief. "It's going to seem weird without him. When you think about Tarpon High, he's one of these people you think about."
Henderson also taught Miller's mother, Angela (Targakis) Miller, who was the advertising editor for the yearbook.
Under Henderson's direction, the yearbook has won hundreds of awards for excellence. In 1995, Henderson was awarded the Gold Key from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for his devotion to high school press.
The Florida Scholastic Press Association awarded Henderson its highest award, the Gold Medallion, and in April gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
"He was always a good resource for ideas," said Judy Cannaday, the yearbook and newspaper adviser at Palm Harbor University High and the vice president of FSPA. "His publications always have been of high quality and never just slapped together. He just set a high standard for students for quality work and was a good role model for other advisers throughout the country."
Tarpon High has always been a part of Henderson's life. He's a graduate. His wife is a graduate. His mother, his father and his mother-in law are graduates. His father-in-law played football at the school. His son and daughter are graduates.
Now, for the first time since he can remember, Henderson will not be walking the halls of the institution where he's inspired thousands of students.
"I'm attached to my students," Henderson said. "Students are like my family. I overall had a great relationship with the majority of the students and great relationships with some of the teachers. Tarpon High is our family.
"Every now and then when you think about it (retiring), it gets a little sentimental."
But daughter Maria Henderson, 30, doesn't think her father will be away for long.
"He will be back here doing something," Maria said, with a laugh. "He loves this place."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.