Richard TenHaken: Superintendent Who Looked Controversy in the Eye

  • Richard TenHaken had big shoes to fill and he knew it.
    Hired following the retirement of Dr. John W. Parker, TenHaken became Rush-Henrietta’s second superintendent. A graduate of Hope College in Michigan, TenHaken began his teaching career in 1958 and served as superintendent of schools for the Ticonderoga Central School District for four years.

    TenHaken recalls learning 142 people applied for the top job in Rush-Henrietta and it generated plenty of public interest. “When I was asked to come to R-H for my first Interview, I made reservations at the Holiday Inn on West Henrietta Road,” TenHaken recalls. “After (my wife) Kay and I had traveled from Ticonderoga and arrived at the motel check-in desk, a person came up to me and began asking questions. He was a reporter and apparently had checked around the various motels to learn in which one we were staying.”

    Despite the stiff competition, TenHaken was selected to lead the growing district. Randle V. Cartwright, president of the Rush-Henrietta Board of Education, announced the appointment, which became official August 13, 1968. At the time, Rush-Henrietta’s student population of 9,000 was far larger than it is today.

    During his tenure, TenHaken was well-regarded for improving communication between the district and the public, as well as with its employees; strengthening special education services; and his willingness to tackle difficult issues. His time as superintendent coincided with difficult labor disputes between teachers and the district. This led to summer classes being canceled in 1969. Even so, he remained well-respected. “He was top-notch, a total professional,” says Rick Page, a retired administrator who was a young teacher when TenHaken was at Rush-Henrietta. “Even the president of the teachers’ union liked him. TenHaken held people to a high standard but he had a good manner about him.”

    The Democrat and Chronicle wrote a story published July 11, 1970, about TenHaken. The headline was straightforward: “Controversy: He Looks It in the Eye.” The story detailed the school leader’s tenure in Rush-Henrietta and his impending departure for a new assignment. “From discussions on teaching sex in the schools to debates over the constitutionality of rising for the Pledge of Allegiance, Ten Haken (sic) has seen the gamut of controversy in his tenure in Rush-Henrietta,” reporter Daniel T. Van Atta wrote. TenHaken described those challenges as being “indicative of a school district that is alive and moving.”

    TenHaken’s service to Rush-Henrietta lasted a little more than two years, however, he provided stable and effective leadership during a tumultuous time. In 1970, State Commissioner of Education Ewald Nyquist appointed TenHaken to oversee what is known today as Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES. He led that organization for 23 years, retiring in 1993. While TenHaken worked on the county’s west side, he and his wife, Kay, continued to reside in their Henrietta home on Barnfield Road.

    The couple moved to Michigan in 2005. Now 88, TenHaken fondly remembers Rush-Henrietta. His contributions, including negotiating a unique agreement for our students to attend classes at Rochester Institute of Technology free of charge, continue to make an impact more than 50 years later.

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