Elizabeth and Richard Henes
Elizabeth and Richard Henes
“This is exactly the type of support we need to continue our tradition of excellence at Michigan Tech.”

Heneses Share Their Good Fortune

Richard Henes says his greatest fortune is his wife, Elizabeth, but he’s also had a successful career and become a philanthropist. He is gratified to help out others. “What else is there to do with money once you have it?” he asks. “There’s no sensible alternative.”

Henes’s road to success began at Michigan Tech, where he majored in mechanical engineering—a discipline that was a good fit because, as a youth, “I fixed everything there was to be fixed,” he recalls.

A native of Menominee, Michigan, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1948. After earning a law degree from the University of Michigan, he worked as a patent lawyer in Milwaukee for a year and then moved to Phoenix, where he worked as an engineer.

In 1958, he founded Henes Manufacturing Company, then Henes Products and Henes Stamping. His products ranged from electronic instruments to semiconductor parts to aircraft parts. One major development was a water-fueled gas welder. His patented products also included exercise equipment, a gas generator, a pressure-operated valve, and a cover for pickup truck beds. “We had success, but nothing earthshaking,” he says.

Where Henes really excelled was as a real estate investor. He moved to Phoenix when the population was 100,000. The key to that real estate success: “Buy, hold, and sell when the time is right. Being in Arizona didn’t hurt.”

Now, at age 80, he is retired on all fronts except real estate, spending many hours per day on his computer conducting business and managing investments, including those for Michigan Tech.

The Heneses provide annual support of an endowed chair and an endowed scholarship. They also have provided for additional faculty positions, as well as the Seaman Mineral Museum, through their estate. Of the endowed chair, Henes says matter-of-factly, “We’ll continue that. There should be several chairs before we’re through.”

The Heneses set up their mechanical engineering endowed chair in 2002 and say the basis of their support was department chair Bill Predebon’s “description of the necessity for doing it.” The Heneses welcomed the opportunity, continuing long-standing support that has earned them membership in the Hubbell Society for their lifetime giving and in the McNair Society for their estate gift commitments.

Their support is grounded in four considerations: Henes’s Tech education, a memorable professor, hard work, and vision.

First, Henes says that Tech gave him “incentive to go ahead and the urge” to be a mechanical engineer.

Second, R. Rex Seeber (1899 alumnus), chair of mechanical engineering at the time, took him under his wing and counseled him. “We had talks. Consultations. He was brilliant, kind, and straightforward.”

Also, hard work was Henes’s nature. Where did that ethic come from? “I wonder about that myself,” he says. “I don’t know, but I was pretty much driven.”

Lastly, he foresees an enlightened generation to come. He believes the biggest challenge facing America’s youth is to be as good as the people coming out of India and China. “We’re going to have to work hard to keep up with them, and I hope we do.”

Henes says alongside this successful man is a woman. For he says about his wife, “I give Liz the credit for a lot of what I’ve accomplished. She’s a wonderful person. It’s easy to get along in life when you have somebody like her beside you.”

And it’s easier for Michigan Tech to achieve its goals with partners like the Heneses.

That’s the view of Predebon, who says the Henes endowed chair proved vital in retaining Professor John Sutherland, one of Tech’s most productive and highly regarded faculty members.

Predebon says that Sutherland is renowned in the field of environmentally responsible manufacturing. He has conducted research at a high level, attracted significant research funds, collaborated with other faculty, and mentored many graduate students.

Sutherland was being courted by others offering him an endowed chair, a common way in academe to attract established faculty and those “on the rise.” The Henes chair induced Sutherland to remain at Tech. “The timing was just right,” Predebon says.

Sutherland is the director of Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute, excelling at interdisciplinary inquiry in addition to collaboration with other universities.

“Often, you search around the country for the best person to fill an endowed chair,” Predebon says. “We already had the best in our department, for which I am very grateful. John is a special person.”

For his part, Sutherland is personally gratified to fill the Henes chair. “It’s one of the highlights of my professional career,” he says.

He also recognizes the value for the institution. “This is exactly the type of support we need to continue our tradition of excellence at Michigan Tech. The chair supports students and helps promote our activities across the US and abroad. The Henes’s commitment helps us to stay at the forefront of sustainable manufacturing research and to continue to build our reputation in this area.”