Camano’s beaches bring families together. None more so than then Henning Beach, just north of Onamac Point. Henning Beach has been bringing the Henning family together since 1926. Sue Simonson, the eldest in the third generation, shared with me her story.
Sue’s grandparents, Peter and Nannie Henning, and their four children, Cliff, Marguerite, Geneva (Sue’s mother), and Peter Jr. would often camp at Rocky Point. From there, Peter would take his 18 foot boat and fish to the south of Rocky Point. One day, he saw a parcel of land that caught his eye. When this parcel came up in a tax auction in 1926, he bought the quarter mile strip of beach which included a spit and the 40 acres above it for $2,000.
At that time, the only way from the bluff to the beach was by a switchback trail, that was christened the “Indian Trail”. The Henning family would hike down to the water to picnic and play on the beach. Peter worked as a contractor in Canada, Alaska and Washington. (The Henning Bridge, that he built over the Pilchuck river, was named after him.) Because of the severe grade to this property, he knew that he would need to purchase 50 feet, from the neighbor who owned Onamac in order to make a road with 10% grade from the County road to the waterfront; thankfully, he was able to do that.
Peter built the road to the beach and completed the house on the beach in 1929.
Now, next to the original home there sits three others: one for each of Peter and Nannie’s children. In 1950, the second house was built for Marguerite and her two boys, as she was widowed. The family shared the original house, until it became too full, then the three remaining children drew straws to see who would be given first option to purchase the original house, from the family or to build. Geneva drew the short straw and she and her husband Erling chose to purchase the original house from the family, and her the two brothers, Peter and Cliff built their own family homes.
Sue’s aunts and uncles have now all passed away, but these homes have remained in the family, passed down through the generations. The houses are owned by the 10 cousins of the 3rd generation who have shared over 6 decades of treasured beach memories. “The 15 cousins in the 4th generation, which include my children, Lisa Anderson and Todd Simonson, actually own the property, and “lease” the land back to us.” Now a 5th generation is rising up, 16 and growing.
Henning Beach is a family beach. It has been a wonderful place for the family and relatives to get together in the summer: playing in the mud flats, swimming, crabbing, fishing, and, most of all, just enjoying being together as a family. I asked Sue what happens when they get into a family fight. She said, “That doesn’t happen. Sure there are disagreements, but we work it out.” The family holds annual meetings to discuss maintenance, tax payment planning and future use, all run by Robert’s Rules of Order. Years ago, the 3rd generation penned a family mission statement. This is read at the beginning of each annual meeting and it reaffirms the family’s purpose and goals.
But even though it is a “family beach” they don’t keep it to themselves. Thousands of people have been welcomed to gather for class parties, class and family reunions, bridal and baby showers, birthdays, staff meetings, retreats, photo sessions, graduations, weddings and memorial services.
The “Private Beach” signs are there to let people know that the beach and tidelands are private property, not to keep people from walking on the beach, but to ask them to respect it. Neighbors from Onamac Beach, to the south, and Eagle Crest, to the north, (a community with a tram that transports them to the beach) commonly walk by enjoying the beauty that surrounds.
Did Peter and Nannie realize that this investment would create a legacy of bringing a family together almost 100 years later? Probably not, but it is a gift that the Henning family doesn’t take for granted as they maintain the highest level of stewardship and continue to share this amazing gift with others. It brings them together and reminds them of how blessed the gift of family can be.