Valley native at peace with terminal cancer diagnosis

Mike Henningsen works the Kiwanis booth at the 2023 Candy Dance.

Mike Henningsen works the Kiwanis booth at the 2023 Candy Dance.

Fourth-generation Gardnerville native Mike Henningsen has resigned his seat on the town board after receiving a terminal brain cancer diagnosis.

Henningsen said he’s been given six months to live.

“I went through some treatments, but one of the cancers started growing again,” he said.

Henningsen accepted his diagnosis with grace, saying he agreed with doctors that it would eventually kill him despite what would be significant measures to try and stop it.

“I have no regrets, at all, I’m at peace” the 68-year-old told The Record-Courier. “My kids are all grown and they’re having their own kids. I’ve had a great life.”

He said the cancer started in his chest but metastasized into his brain.

He said that radiation therapy was a gamble that could gain him a few months, but that wasn’t how he wanted to spend his final days.

He’s been exercising and was speaking to The R-C from the track at the Douglas County Community & Senior Center.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m doing a lot of exercising. Cancer wants to break you down, but the best way to fight it is to keep exercising. I know where I’m going.”

The Henningsen family’s arrival in Carson Valley predates the 1879 founding of Gardnerville by six years..

Carsten Henningsen arrived in Carson Valley from Denmark on June 10, 1873, founding the ranch five years later in 1878.

In 1895, the Henningsens were among the founding families of Trinity Lutheran Church, where Henningsen is still a member.

“My family has had the pleasure of knowing you since 1982 when we moved down the street from you,” said longtime neighbor and fellow Trinity member Dan Hamer at the June 4 Town Board meeting. “I was 5 years old when I met you on our first Sunday here. On behalf of me and my family, we appreciate your dedication and service to this community every day. We love you and hope you defy the odds.”

Hennigsen was elected to the town board in 2018 and served two years as chairman.

“He never had anything bad to say about anyone,” Town Manager Erik Nilssen said. “He always looks for the positive in people.”

Future town board member Barbara Smallwood said it was Henningsen’s mother, Virginia, who encouraged her to run for the seat.

“The reason I’m standing here Michael is because of your mother,” she said. “I too, like so many others have been involved with your family for so long. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you’ve done on the Gardnerville Town Board. My application to be a candidate was because I was looking forward to serving with you.”

Henningsen is beginning a historical project to preserve the knowledge he’s absorbed over the years.

“It’s hard to express all the stories I talk about and the influences I pass on,” he said. “It’s a story that needs to be told, which I’m working on. I’ve been so blessed and all of you have equally contributed to the success of the town of Gardnerville.”

Henningsen spent a dozen years on the Minden-Gardnerville Sanitation District before running for town board.

He served as a Scout Master and Assistant Scout Master for more than two decades and is an Elder at Trinity Lutheran Church. He is a member of Kiwanis and served as the club’s president for two terms.

Henningsen grew up on the family dairy farm on Waterloo Lane.

He is a 1974 graduate of Douglas County High School, where he attended class with East Fork Justice of the Peace Paul Gilbert, rancher David Hussman and former Douglas County School Board trustee Ross Chichester. He graduated from California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo in 1979.

The Gardnerville Town Board approved a proclamation honoring Henningsen’s service and approving a process to fill his seat.

Gardnerville will be advertising for applications for a new board member over the next month, with a July 16 deadline to apply. It will be the first time in a dozen years the board has had to replace a member. Henningsen’s term ends Dec. 31, 2026.

The town board is advisory so whomever they nominate must be approved by Douglas County commissioners.

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