Please remember in your prayers Doug Hennes ’77, vice president for government relations and special projects. He died Thursday, July 19, at the age of 63.
A Mass of Christian Burial began at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 24, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. There was reserved complimentary parking in Lot A for guests attending the funeral, entrance at Selby Ave. and Finn Ave. N. Visitation was 4-7 p.m. Monday at the O’Halloran & Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, and one hour prior to Mass at church Tuesday. Interment Resurrection Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials preferred to the University of St. Thomas ThreeSixty Journalism program.
For the countless people who knew him, Hennes was the quintessential Tommie. A champion of the university as a student, as an alumnus and, for 28 years, as a staff member, he exemplified his university’s values.
“He had a real belief that there is a common good, and his vocation was to help find that, whether in the university or in the broader community,” said President Julie Sullivan. “He was a very special man, and was just so caring about others and about St. Thomas.”
“He really was one of our chief guiding spirits,” said Father Dennis Dease, president emeritus.
An Owatonna, Minnesota, native, Hennes returned to his alma mater in 1990 as executive director of university relations. He was promoted to associate vice president for university relations in 1994 and to vice president for university and government relations in 1997. In 2017 he became vice president for government relations and special projects. Throughout his career here, Hennes had immeasurable impact on the university and in Twin Cities communities, standing as the energetic, passionate face of St. Thomas in a wide range of civic and academic areas.
As a tireless advocate, Hennes played a key role in the university’s growth and evolution, including securing a $15 million federal grant in 1994 to build its Frey Science and Engineering Center.
“Doug pursued every avenue until we finally secured the grant, which was what we needed to turn the dream of the science center into reality,” Dease said. “I’ll never forget how he simply would not give up when we were being greeted by obstacle after obstacle. I will always be grateful for that, and for so many other marvelous feats he accomplished with St. Thomas.”
Hennes worked constantly to improve St. Thomas’ relationships with its neighboring communities: Along with serving on district councils, he spearheaded the creation in 2004 of the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee, which has been a crucial forum for discussing and growing the shared interests of St. Thomas and its neighbors. Hennes was also an active representative for St. Thomas on the Minnesota Private College Council.
“He knew so many people and was so generous with them,” said Amy Gage, St. Thomas’ neighborhood liaison since 2014. “He had a loyalty to this place that was unquestioned. He was a constant advocate for and a booster of St. Thomas.”
“He bled purple”
Whether in official or unofficial capacities, Hennes’ enthusiasm for St. Thomas was contagious.
“He was unequaled in his passion for St. Thomas as an institution, for the people who worked here, and for St. Thomas athletics,” said Mark Vangsgard, vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer. “He just loved this place and everything about it. Regardless of what his job was, when I think of Doug, that’s what I think of: his passion. It just oozed out of his veins. He led by example when it came to passion and enthusiasm about St. Thomas. Just being around him you would get excited about St. Thomas because he was excited about St. Thomas.”
That passion fueled an unparalleled level of energy; Hennes changed the dynamic of any room.
“He bled purple. He was an institutional supporter of the first magnitude,” said John Hershey, former neighborhood liaison and longtime colleague of Hennes. “St. Thomas has lost a genuine friend and supporter.”
A proud Irishman and Catholic, Hennes’ greatest joy was in his family. His beloved wife, Karen, worked alongside him in Aquinas Hall as Sullivan’s administrative assistant. Their love was apparent and joyful; Hennes spoke often of how happy he was to have Karen as his best friend.
Hennes was extremely proud of his children and stepchildren, and took great joy in the blessings of eight grandchildren. Along with Karen, Hennes is survived by sons Christopher (Karen) and Nathaniel Hennes (Sarah) and daughter Katharine Planton (William), stepchildren Kelly Coffey (Katharina), Ben Coffey, Tim Coffey (Claire) and Katrina Coffey, and grandchildren Nathaniel, Ana, Gabby, Keaton, Genevieve, Penelope, Gavin and Avery. He is also survived by two sisters, Colette (Phil) Ryan and Jane (Joe) Willett and a brother, Greg (Leo). Hennes was preceded in death by his parents, Irene and Serane (“Sy”) Hennes, and a sister, Teresa.
“What a wonderful father and grandfather he is, and has been,” Sullivan said.
A gifted storyteller
While many people knew Hennes personally, many more knew him by his words. He began his newspaper career in high school as a sports correspondent and reporter for his hometown newspaper, the Owatonna People’s Press. During his college years he continued working for the People’s Press; was a writer and editor of the student newspaper, The Aquin; and was sports information director for St. Thomas’ News Bureau. He graduated from St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree cum laude in journalism and began his 14-year career at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, serving the last six years as metro editor.
While metro editor, Hennes was involved in two Pulitzer Prize-winning series: He was project editor on John Camp’s 1985 series on a Minnesota farm family, and also worked on the 1987 “AIDS in the Heartland” story by Jacqui Banaszynski. He served two terms as the president of the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
When he left the Pioneer Press for St. Thomas, he brought along his love for writing and over the years crafted hundreds of stories for St. Thomas magazine, its website and other university outlets. Most recently, Hennes was recognized at the Society of Professional Journalists 2018 Page One Awards for “Pulitzer Proud,” his compelling magazine feature about Pulitzer Prize-winning Iowa journalist and St. Thomas alumnus Art Cullen.
The stories Hennes told took him around the country and the globe with trips to Africa, United Kingdom, Cuba, India and South America. In the most recent issue of St. Thomas magazine, he profiled Fred de Sam Lazaro, director of the “Under-Told Stories Project.” The spring 2012 St. Thomas magazine is a true showcase of Hennes’ gift for words and love for St. Thomas. Hennes traveled to Uganda with Dease, and through four long-form stories showcased the heart of Dease’s deep connection to Uganda and how it reflected St. Thomas’ mission to contribute to the common good.
In 2000, Hennes was part of a St. Thomas delegation to Cuba, during which he wrote a collection of stories about the trip, including “Final Thoughts: Trying to understand Cuba…and Castro.”
Hennes penned “That Great Heart: The Life of I.A. O’Shaughnessy, Oilman & Philanthropist,” a book published by Beaver’s Pond Press in 2014. An in-depth account of philanthropist Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, Hennes expertly painted a portrait capturing the spirit of O’Shaughnessy, a 1907 St. Thomas graduate who amassed great wealth as an independent oil operator and gave most of his money away, with St. Thomas and Notre Dame as primary beneficiaries. In an Amazon review of the book, O’Shaughnessy’s grandson, Jim, called the book a “wonderful portrait” and wrote that Hennes did “a great job of capturing my grandfather’s wit, love of life and his incredible generosity.”
Love of athletics
Often partnered with his love of writing, Hennes was a huge fan of St. Thomas athletics. Many times Hennes would attend games purely to watch, but more often he would find his way to the familiar reporter’s chair to write a story for Tommie Sports. Afterward he could be seen interviewing players and coaches, always finding the heart of his story in the people.
Many times that reporting involved long road trips: Along with traveling to Cuba, Hennes covered national championship seasons across the country.
“He just loved everything about St. Thomas and our athletic programs so much,” said athletic director and former men’s basketball coach Steve Fritz, who as an admissions counselor recruited Hennes to come to St. Thomas in 1973. “He was great at getting around and seeing people at events. He had a great writing style, loved writing. There are so many things that we’re going to miss sorely.”
Reflected in his stories was the fact Hennes simply loved people. Coupled with that was his desire to help everyone. Throughout his decades at St. Thomas and the Pioneer Press, he consistently found and made connections to improve others professionally – the list of jobs he recommended colleagues for is endless – or through the difficulties of life: As the head of University Relations he led the department’s weekly volunteering efforts with Meals on Wheels, Loaves and Fishes, Adopt a Family at Christmas, Habitat for Humanity and raking the Summit Avenue median, examples of his constant nature of giving back to others.
“He embodied all those values that St. Thomas stands for,” said Jim Winterer, Hennes’ colleague for 27 years in University Relations. “That made him a wonderful boss and wonderful person to work with.”
“He was our leader in everything,” said Sara Klomp, former senior designer for University Relations who worked for Hennes for 24 years. “He was a great man. He was St. Thomas.”
Patty Petersen and Amy Carlson Gustafson contributed to this story.
Please post in the comments section any memories or stories of Doug you would like to share.