During Sebring’s Centennial celebrations, Mayor George Hensley and his wife Nancy were involved in many of the activities and events that marked the city’s 100 year anniversary.
“We have loved it!” said Nancy. The Mayor added, “All of the activities of this last week were fun. My favorite happened to be the mayor’s street dance because I was in charge of that.”
From their home on Dinner Lake, the Hensley’s shared memories of their families, 53 years of marriage and over 30 years of public service to the community they love.
Sebring became a part of George Hensley’s destiny from the moment he met a young lady named Nancy Heacock, vacationing with her family at the Nu-Wray Inn in North Carolina.
Hensley’s maternal grandparents (Wray) owned the well-known landmark that opened in 1833.
Nancy’s parents Ford Heacock, Sr. and Martee Saunders Heacock were friends with the Hensley family and stayed regularly at the historic hotel.
“I was 15 that summer, George was 16 and the son of the innkeeper,” said Nancy, of the meeting that blossomed into young love the following summer during a return visit.
The Nu-Wray became a family favorite for holiday gatherings while the couple’s three daughters, Beth, Martee, and Leslie, were growing up.
Both of Nancy’s parents were from pioneer families that helped shape Sebring’s history.
Nancy’s grandfather, Cornelius “C.F.” Saunders, was the first Clerk of the Court of Highlands County, serving three terms. After retiring from politics, he became director of the Chamber of Commerce. Her father established the Heacock Insurance Agency in 1922, a thriving family-run business.
Born in 1936 in North Carolina, George was introduced to the insurance industry early in life. His father was not only the Burnsville Postmaster, he delivered fresh milk, grew tobacco and owned a small independent insurance agency.
After George graduated from Duke University with a degree in Business Administration the couple married June 20, 1959. At the urging of her father, they moved to Sebring in 1963, and George started what has become a 49 year career with Heacock Insurance Group.
In 1972, the couple built their dream home on Dinner Lake. A spacious ranch style house that sits amid a dozen old-growth oak trees, the home has a welcoming ambiance. Filled with family heirlooms and photos of their 10 grandchildren, their residence is a reflection of southern charm and elegance.
A mantle hand-carved by his great-grandfather in 1850 graces the family-room fireplace. It was rescued by George’s father when his ancestor’s home was torn down in 1954.
In 1980, the same year George retired as a Captain in the Naval Reserves, he ran for his first public office, winning a council seat. After five terms, it was his wife and numerous other people’s encouragement that prompted him to run for mayor in 1998.
“I wanted to get involved and give back to the community,” said this friendly, outgoing man of his decision to seek political office. He won with 76 percent of the vote and has been unopposed ever since.
From his eight years with the Sebring Airport Authority to 30 years in public office, Hensley feels he has been successful because he is a “good listener” who “likes to resolve conflicts with a healthy outcome for all.”
The Mayor’s admiration for the city staff, city administrator, the Community Redevelopment Agency, and the Public Works and Utility Department is evident in his praise of their visionary proposals and worthwhile efforts. “They have done an outstanding job of making the city what it is today,” Hensley stated. “There are good people in leadership positions in this city.”
This has been a busy year for the Hensley’s. After cancer surgery last October and radiation treatments, the Mayor said he is now doing very well. “I’m cancer free according to my doctor, and I’m very glad about that.”
A middle-school teacher who retired after 22 years with the Highlands County school system, Nancy has been the Chairwoman of the Champion for Children Foundation (www.ccfhighlands.org) for over 14 years. She said that the non-profit organization is in the process of completing renovations on the historic Circle Theatre.
The Mayor is also active with the Rotary Club of Sebring, is on the Board of Directors for the city’s firemen and police pension boards, and is a trustee with the First United Methodist Church.
Nancy is chairperson for First United Methodist’s Centennial. The historic church on South Pine Street has held monthly events including a reenactment of the one-day church raising, the making of a memorial quilt, and producing the winning float in Sebring’s Centennial Parade. Celebrations will culminate with an old fashioned ice cream social on Dec. 8 and the Centennial worship service and luncheon on Dec. 9.