Familiar face joins Washburn community

Rob Burkett

Sometimes a new face is only an old face that has been absent but found once again.

In the case of Eric McHenry, assistant professor of English, home has been various places, yet he still comes back to Washburn.

Mchenry’s story starts in Topeka, with roots that reach back into the community historical fabric.

From growing up blocks from Washburn where his great-grandmother, Lena Schenck graduated, to having a father that taught at Washburn, to being a fifth-generation Topeka High graduate, his home has always been in the heart of the flint hills.

In fact, growing up in Topeka, McHenry had the fortune to live next door to one of the central figures in his early life, Peggy Greene who was more popularly known as, “Peggy of the Flint Hills” a columnist who wrote for more than 50 years with the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“I remember as a kid growing up listening to the clacking of typewriter keys through the window as Peggy worked,” said McHenry. “She really was like a second mother to my brother and I and we ended up making appearances in her column from time to time.”

As McHenry grew up, Greene’s early influence gave him the inspiration to pursue writing as a career. Thus when high school came to an end, McHenry chose to attend Beloit, a smaller liberal arts college in Wisconsin, where he could pursue a degree in creative writing.

“At age 18 I was really just a pinball letting the bumpers of life pushing me in whatever direction it chose to take me,” said McHenry.

While in college, an internship opportunity would help determine the course of McHenry’s career path in large part.

“At the time, the Topeka Capital-Journal was running a brief-lived but robust editorial internship program,” said McHenry “I did that for a couple of summers, which eventually turned into a job for me.”

After spending a couple of years working for the newspaper, McHenry decided to expand his educational background by attending graduate school at Boston University.

While at Boston, McHenry met the woman who would eventually become his wife. That relationship helped to keep him in the New England area working first as a writer and editor for the Boston University Bridge, the faculty-run newspaper, and then later in the same positions for the Bostonia, the alumni magazine.

After spending some time in New England the couple, though happy, decided that a change was needed. There was a child in the family now and the long, cold winters were wearing down on the couple.

With his wife being offered a job in Seattle, McHenry went to work for the alumni magazine at the University of Washington as an associate editor.

While living in Seattle, McHenry, who had always thought about teaching, decided that getting published would be a sensible first step in getting onto the teaching track.

“Unlike in other fields where masters and doctorate degrees give you the qualification to become a professor, in liberal arts it typically takes getting published via a book or collection of literature to become eligible for a professorial position,” said McHenry.

His efforts eventually gave way to his work, “Potscrubber Lullabies” a book of McHenry’s poetry that was published in 2006 and won the 2007 American Academy of Poets prize.

With his body of work in the journalism world and having been published, McHenry began searching for a teaching job.

“I had mentally prepared myself to move really anywhere and just happened to luck out that among a small handful of jobs in Kansas, a position at Washburn opened up,” said McHenry.

Now that McHenry is back in his old stomping ground he plans on making Washburn a home for a long time to come.

“I am in no danger of leaving anytime soon,” said McHenry “I want to give my children a chance to be in one place and grow up with friends and all the things I enjoyed growing up [in Topeka].”

Sometimes, a new face is only an old face that has been absent but found once again.