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Honoring Henderson

SOS group seeks to rename Expo Park for former St. Paul pastor who died Oct. 2

-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Fort Dodge City Councilman Terry Moehnke, left; TJ Pingel, representing Serving Our Servants; and Fort Dodge City Councilman Kim Alstott; gathered at Exposition Park, also known as Expo Park, to discuss the idea of renaming the site Rev. Allen Henderson Park. Henderson, the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church and the founder of Serving Our Servants, was killed Oct. 2 at the church. His accused killer, Joshua Pendleton, is jailed on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

TJ Pingel has no doubt that in the process of losing his own life, the Rev. Al Henderson saved others.

Henderson, a longtime pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, was killed after being attacked outside of that church on Oct. 2.

And that day, Pingel, of Fort Dodge, planned to drop off his two sons at the church for confirmation classes.

“We were running behind schedule,” Pingel said.

When he got there, he saw first responders and flashing lights.

-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
The wide-open expanse of Expo Park could be filled with walking paths and works of art under a plan approved Monday by the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission. The commission received a request to rename the site along North Seventh Street after the Rev. Allen Henderson, but took no action on it.

A woman approached Pingel and told him there had been an incident at the church and that classes were canceled.

“I told my boys to stay in the car,” Pingel recalled.

But one of his sons happened to see Henderson.

“My oldest son saw Pastor Henderson on the ground,” Pingel said.

At the time, Pingel told his son that Henderson may have slipped and gotten hurt.

“Then I got the call shortly after and found out what actually happened,” Pingel said.

The next day, he was faced with having to talk to his children, two middle school-aged boys and a young girl in kindergarten, about Henderson’s death.

“We told her that he’s in heaven,” Pingel said. “It’s true that he’s in a better place, but it’s hard to see that at the time.”

Pingel believes that because of the confrontation Henderson had with his attacker, that others likely avoided being seriously injured or worse.

“He saved the lives of others that night,” said Pingel, who is also a member of Serving Our Servants, a group Henderson established to help area first responders.

After the fact, Pingel’s oldest boy told him something that inspired an idea.

“One of my boys said, ‘I hope we don’t forget what he looks like,'” Pingel recalled. “And I thought, ‘How can we?’ How can we forget all he’s done for our community? He’s unlike any other person I’ve met.”

To help make sure Fort Dodge doesn’t soon forget Henderson or what he looks like, Pingel and others hope to have a park named after Henderson and a statue that will resemble him.

A petition, both online and in person, has been distributed throughout the community to change the name of Expo Park to Rev. Allen Henderson Park. More than 1,500 signatures have been collected.

Pingel presented the petitions to the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Commission Monday.

A proposed plan for the park along North Seventh Street that was the site of a swimming pool for decades was on the commission’s agenda, and Pingel told commission members that he didn’t think there was a better time to consider renaming the site.

However, the commission took no action on the idea.

Lori Branderhorst, the director of parks, recreation and forestry, said the city has a naming rights policy for parks. She said she wants to review that policy as part of a broader update of the parks master plan.

”From a staff standpoint, I just want to make sure we’re getting it right,” she said. ”We’ll take all of this into consideration.”

Branderhorst did not say when the process of updating the naming rights policy or the parks master plan will be completed.

There was no indication Monday of when the commission might revisit the issue of renaming the park.

The commission did approve a plan for the park that calls for constructing some walking paths through it and installing public art works that may be changed periodically. That plan now goes to the City Council for final approval.

To learn how to sign the official petition, contact servingourservants@gmail.com.