LILLIAN, Ala. (WKRG) — Sarah Henkel is a retired school teacher who taught students for 30 years. Much of that time she worked with special needs students, challenging them to succeed despite their disabilities.
One of her students she taught at Pensacola Catholic High school told WKRG News 5’s Rose Ann Haven that Henkel taught him the skills to succeed in college. He has autism and said, “I admire her dedication and passion. She taught learning strategies, how to effectively take notes, how to listen. She really prepared me how to study in college, how to be a good student.”
This student, currently enrolled in college, plans follow in Mrs. Henkel’s footsteps and become a teacher.
“I do not find myself remarkable in any way shape or form”, said Mrs. Henkel from Lillian Perdido Bay Community Library where she serves as president, receives no salary, yet gives credit to the library’s success to other volunteers.
“I’m only as successful as I am because of what they do. You know, same thing like in the classroom when I taught. My success as a teacher was only as good as what the children could give me back as students.”
Henkel is hard-wired with the ability to help others. She learned to overcome challenges in her childhood, losing her father to a massive heart attack. One brother also died in childhood.
“Luke, he died at age 12, I was 11. He was hit by a car on his bicycle. He rode his bike to school that day.”
Later, another brother would die to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“That is a lot of tragedy”, said Haven to Henkel while visiting with her at the library. Henkel replied, “That is a lot of tragedy.”
She also endured tragedy by relying on inner strength, her faith, when one of her two sons, James Henkel, fell and broke his neck.
“What’s the alternative, you know … what’s the alternative? You just lay down and say I’m over this?” Mrs. Henkel said.
James, a former rock climber, now quadriplegic, followed his mother’s example of surviving.
“She’s had a lot go on in her life. She keeps moving forward … why can’t I?” James Henkel said.
Sarah’s husband, Jim Henkel, said when James’s accident occured, “Sarah gave up everything. It was about her son who needed help and the best of Sarah in all aspects came out instantly and it was a pleasure to behold.”
Both Sarah and Jim Henkel underwent months of medical training so their son have the best life possible under the circumstances. Now, he drives a vehicle to and from his full-time job, lives alone, and enjoys fishing.
“I love the woman immensely, and I’m so, so happy that Nexstar is taking the time to recognize ladies and remarkable women because they are out there just look around and you’re gonna find them and Sarah’s right there with them,” Jim Henkel said of his wife.
Sarah considers her family to be her greatest accomplishment. As a retired teacher, library president and parent, she encourages other parents to spend as much time with their children and read to them. In the classroom, she could always pick out the children whose parents took time with them.
Sarah Henkel is honored to be one of four finalists in Nexstar’s contest of Remarkable Women on the Gulf Coast and she has a message for other women, “You don’t have to do great, grand, glorious things to be remarkable you know. You can just be a little old library president in Lillian, Ala.”