Sioux Falls ‘First Lady’ Sylvia Henkin Dies at 96
She was one-of-a-kind, ahead of her time, a visionary, a business maven, a major philanthropist, a matriarch of the city. All of these statements and/or comments about Sylvia Henkin were true, but what is also true is that she never limited herself by these definitions. She was simply living her life and sharing her enthusiasm about things which mattered to her.
Whether it was her family, or business, friends, acquaintances or her city, she was passionate about it all. And that was what she expected of others. You needed to care about something, otherwise, your existence on this planet was meaningless.
I could list her accomplishments in business (for one, taking over the family business KSOO Radio and TV after the death of her husband Mort in 1974), the fact that she was the mother of the St. Patrick's Day Parade here in Sioux Falls, tell you that she was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal for her service in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II (yes, Sylvia patrolled high above the Floyd River in Iowa), or that she was the first woman president of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.
I could do all of that, or I could tell you about the Sylvia that I knew; whip-smart, wondrously sophisticated and yet down-to-earth, there wasn't a person she encountered whom she wasn't curious about. She believed you could achieve anything, if you had a passion for it and were willing to work hard. She was also absolutely hilarious! And as she aged, she cared even less about any criticisms people might have for or about her.
I had the honor of working for the Henkins for most of the 80's and fun is the word which comes to mind more often than anything else. The Christmas parties she threw at her gorgeous home on McKennan Park (we called it the Pagoda house) were legendary.
Suffice it to say, I was a guest at a couple of them and while leaving one, in an altered state, I almost removed a portrait of Mort Henkin from above the staircase. Thanks to my friend Scott, the portrait and I survived, unscathed.
Sylvia and I also bonded over our mutual love of German Shepherds. When I first met her, she had a giant white German Shepherd named Max. Over the years she had many other dogs, but I honestly think Max was her greatest canine love. She never failed to ask me how my fur kids were. I will so miss hearing that distinctively raspy, unforgettable voice of hers.
No matter where we ran into each other, (at a fashion show she had talked us into emceeing, or the pasta aisle at Hy-Vee) it was always a joyous occasion, with hugs and kisses, a story about her latest adventures and numerous inquiries as to whether I was keeping out of trouble (Me: "No."- - Sylvia: "Good!"), if I was still loving radio (yes), if I was seeing any special guy (most of the time, no) and had I traveled anywhere fun (sometimes yes, sometimes no).
I know that her city will miss her for many of the same reasons her friends and family will. After all she was part cheerleader, part trailblazer, caretaker, standard-bearer, jester and champion all wrapped up into an unassuming, worldly-wise, firecracker of a woman.