Out on the Key Peninsula, people are a little different — one of the reasons Larry Henderson fits right in.
He looks like he could play bass with the Grateful Dead, and he’s earned every gray hair on his head and beard. Cancer tried to kill him twice, and once it took a kidney.
It didn’t stop him.
“Nobody can keep up with that man,” wife Annita said.
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After years of driving a forklift for one warehouse or another, Henderson found himself unemployed after his 2004 bout with kidney cancer.
“No one wanted to insure me,” he said.
So he and his wife burrowed into their Lakebay home and tried to make it on Social Security, and almost lost the house. One winter times got so lean they ran out of firewood — their heat source.
“I called my neighbor, Steve, and he said, ‘C’mon over and get some wood,’” Henderson said. “What a gift!”
One of the traits on the Peninsula, Henderson said, is that people take care of one another.
“They give back, even if they don’t have much to give,” he said.
The more the Hendersons thought about what their neighbor had done for them, keeping them warm through the winter, the more they thought about giving back.
Four years ago, they established their own nonprofit organization — the Key Peninsula Firewood Bank.
It doesn’t have a website, doesn’t advertise.
“We rely on word of mouth,” Henderson said.
Using donated wood, Henderson cut and split cords, then delivered it to low-income seniors and military veterans. Before long, he was giving a cord to his own Lutheran Church, then the Bischoff Food Bank and other groups.
“They’d raffle it off and use the money for things they needed,” Henderson said.
Now 64, Henderson’s labors were appreciated, but they were taking a financial and physical toll.
“The first two years, we didn’t ask for anything when we delivered wood,” Henderson said. “Now we ask $15 for gas. If they can’t afford it, we don’t ask.”
A year ago, the Hendersons learned about $1,500 Spark grants offered by Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. The grants are “designed to support everyday people who want to spark positive change,” according to the foundation.
If Henderson wasn’t an everyday person, who was? He applied, saying that if given a grant, he’d buy a wood splitter.
The Hendersons got their Spark grant, and this summer bought a wood splitter.
“Having it is quite a bit different,” Henderson said. “The first three years, every order we delivered, I split by hand. That put me in bed.”
He began his service by contacting Key Peninsula woodcutters, the people who downed trees for a living. After felling a tree, they trim off its branches, usually cut it into “rounds” — small cross sections of the tree — and haul it away for their customer.
“Three of them got back to me,” Henderson said. “They’ve been very generous. They’ll cut the tree and tell me where to pick up the rounds. I’ll get one here, one there, sometimes two or three.”
Henderson picks up the wood, and delivers it later, in an ’89 Toyota pickup.
“The firewood business has beaten that truck up,” Henderson said, laughing.
It’s dented Henderson a few times, too.
“When you split wood with an ax, there are times a chunk of wood will hit you in the shins or ankle, and that will make you dance and scream,” he said. “Loading or unloading wood, you get in a hurry and a chunk of wood will fall and land on your thumb.
“I’ve had a couple of close calls with the chain saw, but never been nicked.”
It was a circular saw that got Henderson.
“I was cutting branches with a circular saw on the back of the truck and sawed right over my leg,” he said. “It cut my leg wide open — a gash two inches deep, four inches long. I didn’t hit a vein.
“I hollered for Annita, put Band-Aids on it and she got me to the hospital for stitches. I was cutting wood three days later.”
The Hendersons figure they’ve cut and delivered close to 120 cords of wood the past four years, and the splitter might allow them to produce more at a faster clip.
Since their business is nonprofit, what do they get out of it?
“Do something for others and it comes back to you, I believe that,” Henderson said. “Someone gave us a washing machine when we needed one — we hadn’t even asked.
“What you do does come back to you.”
To contact Larry and Annita Henderson, call 253 884-0102