The Kern River Valley lost one of its most beloved and enduring matriarchs last week. Winnie Henderson went home to be with her Lord and family peacefully July 20, 2017 at Kern Medical Hospital in Bakersfield.
Winifred “Winnie” Harriet Hand Henderson was born May 5, 1921, the second of eight children, in the home of her parents, Hattie Merriam Smith and Harland Weaver Hand on Kelso Creek Road in Weldon, Calif. Winnie was the fourth generation of her family to call the South Fork Valley her home. Her great grandparents, Thomas Hooper and Sophia Mariah Smith, settled in the South Fork Valley and founded the Smith Ranch in the Onyx area. Winnie’s grandfather, Thomas Stanley Smith, met and married Ella Parker Merriam, a young schoolteacher from San Francisco who had come to the Valley. Tommy and Ella Smith had three children: Stanley, Hattie and Helen, who were all born and raised on the Smith Ranch, delivered by their grandmother, Sophia Mariah.
Hattie met “Weaver” Hand when he came to homestead some land on Kelso Creek. The couple married in 1917. Weaver joined the Navy during WWI and was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, where his young bride joined him.
After the war, Weaver returned to the South Fork Valley where he and Hattie purchased the John Cross Ranch on Kelso Creek Road. The “Hand Ranch” would become their home for the rest of their lives, and it was there that Winnie was born.
Winnie’s early education was at the South Fork School, but because there was no high school in the Valley at the time, she lived with a family in Bakersfield and attended Bakersfield High School. After graduation, Winnie attended San Jose State College and studied to become a teacher. There she met and married Robert Creighton and their child, Kathleen Carrol, was born.
Winnie obtained her first job teaching school in Turlock on a wartime provisional credential. When Bob returned home after the war the couple separated, and a second child, son William Dale Creighton, was born shortly thereafter. Winnie returned home to her beloved Kern River Valley, where she lived for the rest of her life. It was there that Winnie met and married A.W. “Dutch” Henderson, a “hay baler man.” In 1947, she began work at the South Fork School as a cook while completing her official teaching credential at San Jose State.
After ten years of marriage, Winnie and Dutch Henderson divorced. She would never remarry. It was then that Winnie began teaching at the South Fork Elementary School, where she would eventually become its principal/superintendent, and initiated innovative “team teaching” and open classroom methods to the valley. After her retirement in 1978, she continued to guide and mentor generations of children through her involvement with 4-H and FFA, sharing her knowledge and skill with raising and caring for sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, geese and cows well into her eighties.
Over the years, she watched her son Dale take over the farming operation begun by her father Weaver, and as the business grew, Tom and Jack, two of his six children, joined him in what eventually became Creighton Farms. One of Winnie’s greatest joys was watching her grandchildren work on the farm and in the fields with a love for farming and ranching activities surrounding her hillside home in Weldon. Her daughter, Kathleen, became a successful author and had four children of her own. Much to her delight, Winnie’s ten grandchildren made her a great grandmother nearly 30 times, counting step-great grandchildren.
Winnie proudly resided in her own home with relative independence until her final days. She attended weekly worship services at United Methodist Church in Weldon, took part in family events and monthly gatherings of the Golden Girls as recently as a week before her death.
She is preceded in death by her brother, William “Billy” Hand, sisters Dorothy May Vega and Frances Alexander, parents Weaver and Hattie Hand, sons-in-law Ivan Modrovich and Gary Fuchs. She is survived by sisters Marcia Rudnick and Mary Andreas, brothers Russell Hand and Tom Hand; daughter Kathleen Creighton Fuchs, son William Dale Creighton and daughter-in-law Deborah Huntley-Creighton; grandchildren Dawn Jordan, Elise Modrovich, Ildy Pulice, Andrew Modrovich, Sandra Fiack, Alyssa Soto, Matthew Creighton, Thomas Creighton, Jackson Creighton, twenty-one great grandchildren, nine step-great grandchildren, a multitude of nieces, nephews and cousins, and generations of children and their descendents whose lives she influenced.
A Celebration of Life for the public will be held on August 12, 2017, at the South Fork Elementary School Cafeteria at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Winnie’s name to Heifer International, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) or the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research and would be most welcome.