A single phone call led to a lifetime of love

Virginia Henningsen reminisces about ranching in Carson Valley in a 2014 interview for Nevada's Sesquicentennial. R-C File Photo by Brad Coman

Virginia Henningsen reminisces about ranching in Carson Valley in a 2014 interview for Nevada's Sesquicentennial. R-C File Photo by Brad Coman


A 74-year love affair began with a phone call.

John Henningsen was back from serving in the Army during World War II and decided to try his hand at college.

Virginia Shaw was in his speech class and John was looking for a date to take to the ATO fraternity pledge dance.

He said he’d heard of her but hadn’t met her.

“I phoned Virginia and I said, ‘would you go with me to the pledge dance,’ and she said she’d be glad to go with me. Then I had to figure out a way to get there.”

John’s cousin Carsten had also returned from the war and was living in Carson Valley.

“I didn’t have a car, and I phoned my mother and told her I’ve asked a girl to the dance. Do you think I could have Carsten bring the family car, so I have some means to go?”

That was in February 1947. Two years later, on Oct. 15, 1949, Virginia and John Henningsen were wed.

On June 18, 2021, Virginia Henningsen died at the age of 93, a few months short of the couple’s 72nd wedding anniversary.

“I don’t know what God’s grace means to you, but the definition to me was blessings undeserved, and God brought her to me,” the 96-year-old Carson Valley native said. “Virginia cared for me. We were married 71 years. She loved every minute on the ranch.”

A memorial service is 11 a.m. July 10 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1480 Douglas Ave.

The couple have 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

During their courtship, Shaw was living at home where her mother was taking in boarders after her physician father died not long before. An Elko native, she moved with her family to Reno.

John said they both managed to eventually get their degrees, but there was a lot to do on the ranch.

“She loved every minute on the ranch,” he said. “God was so good to me and Virginia.”

Born March 24, 1928, in Elko, Virginia was the daughter of a medical doctor who operated a practice there.

The family moved to Reno, where Dr. William Shaw had his practice until he died when she was 11 years old.

It was her intention to get a degree in nutrition at the university, following in her mother’s footsteps.

John said that when he returned from the war, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but since he had the GI Bill, he thought university was a good call.

“Best thing I ever did in my life was when I came back, I went to the University of Nevada, and God took my hand,” he said.

After they were married, they returned to the ranch in Gardnerville, where John’s father had sold the cows, leaving the young couple to start essentially from scratch.

“My father couldn’t build a grade-A barn, and I told Virginia that if we were to make a success of the farm we were going to have to build a grade-A barn.”

John enlisted the efforts of CC Meneley and they borrowed some money from the land bank. They built the barn and bought a few cattle.

“Virginia loved animals so much,” he said. “When we first moved out to the ranch, you could go to Dangberg’s lambing and pick out orphan lambs. Virginia loved sheep. We were on the ranch a short time and she said ‘we have to get some sheep.’ I think we had 15 at the most.”

Virginia contributed to her community in many ways, including serving on the Douglas County Fair Board. In 1984, she was chairwoman of the Airport Citizens Committee, which conducted the initiative drive to limit weights at the airport.

She was part of the Trinity Lutheran Church Centennial Committee in 1994-95.

She served on the master plan steering committee and after the master plan was done, on the Douglas County Planning Commission for four years.

“I think one of the major things that makes Carson Valley so beautiful are the agricultural lands,” she told The Record-Courier’s Treva Lind in 1996. “That’s what I love about it, the serenity of the green pastures. I’d like to see Carson Valley … keep some of the open areas and the agricultural lands and still make it viable to live here. That’s tough on the ranchers because they’re the ones who have to pay to keep it green.”


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