Longtime Lufkin businessman and beloved community member Simon Wood “Bubba” Henderson III, 86, died in his home on Thursday.
His friends and colleagues remember him as a hilarious, goofy and truly genuine person. Some of his accomplishments have become an integral part of life in East Texas, including the reinstatement of the Texas State Forest Festival — of which he was unabashedly proud.
“It was something he remembered from childhood,” Jerry Huffman, a longtime friend of Henderson’s, said. “I don’t think he missed a year.”
The two worked together through the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce to bring the fair back, Huffman said. But Henderson was the nucleus to their coordination; he carried on leading the fair for years after he stopped serving on the board of the chamber of commerce, Huffman said.
Whether he was riding a camel or serving as the grand marshal in the 2019 Forest Festival Parade, his friends remember him being larger than life.
“I grew up with his girls,” Chamber president/CEO Tara Watson-Watkins said. “I am the same age as his daughters and spent many nights at his house, having sleepovers, playing in the backyard on the zipline and trampoline.”
It was interesting, and funny, for her to grow up with “Bubby” as a parent to people her age, but then to return to town as an adult and to work with him. It was a full circle for Watson-Watkins, but she loved working with him on ideas for the Forest Festival.
“He went to buy a new truck for the parade, to be the grand marshal and to have something to sit in the back of,” she said. “He was so excited to be a part of it.”
He was excited to be a part of many things, said longtime friend and Lufkin Mayor Bob Brown, who remembers Henderson's vivacity and willingness to have fun.
“He had more fun than any human being you will ever know in your life,” Brown said. “He was just full of life and adventure — nothing was impossible with Bubby.”
The two were a part of the East Texas Chamber of Commerce, and the organization used to take big trips to more progressive towns to attend conferences and the like. Brown’s first trip was to California, and he was lucky enough to go with Henderson, he said.
“That was the most enjoyable thing I’ve seen in my life,” he said. “Bubby had been to both and knew every back road and part of Los Angeles and San Francisco. … My selfish self got to see lots of things I would have never known about in San Francisco because Bubby had been there many times and knew all the back roads and hot places to go.”
Brown also recalled just how much of a bulldog Henderson was; if he had an idea that he liked, anyone would be hard pressed to stop him.
Beyond his involvement with the Forest Festival, Henderson’s legacy with the Simon and Louise Henderson Foundation has helped many nonprofits in Angelina County serve countless residents, longtime friend Brenda Elliott said. She met Henderson because he was a good friend of her husband, Joe Elliott.
“We were personal friends, business friends, we were involved in nonprofits, charitable things in the community,” Elliott said. “It was just a long-term friendship.”
She believes his giving nature is something passed down in the Henderson family blood. It was a mindset instilled by grandparents and parents who wanted to build the community. She remembered his propensity for selecting nonprofits to work with the United Way of Angelina County.
“The girls and I are creating a list of nonprofits he was the president of,” she laughed. “We didn’t get the list finished last night — it’s a project to continue tonight.”
She believes that legacy will continue through his children.
Joe Deason met Henderson through his daughters. He was the principal of Dunbar Intermediate School when Henderson’s children attended. Henderson would eat lunch with his daughters occasionally and one time he decided to speak with Deason.
“He and I just got to talking every time we saw each other. We’d sit and chat,” Deason said.
Joie Henderson loved making mayhaw jelly, and Henderson would go out to find mayhaws for her. One time he asked Deason to go with him, and from there they became fast friends. Henderson invited Deason to join his breakfast group in the mornings, and Deason learned a lot from meeting with those men, he said.
They began by eating at Charlie’s diner, but when it moved, they moved to IHOP, he said. Their breakfast together was the start of regular schedules, and they kept those schedules even after retirement.
Henderson loved Deason’s stories about his fascination with coon-hunting as a child, Deason said. Henderson never quite believed the details of those stories, but would ask Deason’s family and friends if they were true.
Just last week, Deason’s wife had a picture made that proved his story true. Henderson had the picture put right up.
Deason grew accustomed to Henderson’s teasing. He learned that if Henderson was picking on him, it was out of a place of love, rather than meanness.
It’s been nearly 40 years since Deason was invited to the breakfast table, and “Bubby” and Deason were what was left of the group. Deason doesn’t know who he will have breakfast with anymore and is having to rethink his morning schedule now.
“I gained so much from him,” he said. “I want to pass that on.”
Henderson’s memorial will be from 5-7 p.m. Monday at the Carroway Funeral Home. Private funeral services will be Tuesday.