Henke recalls Holland, IU memoriesMay 1, 2019
By GREG ECKERLE
Special to the Herald
Steve Henke knows about champions – as a basketball player, a fan, and a contributor.
He was a starting guard on the 1967 and 1968 Holland Dutchmen sectional basketball championship teams. The 1968 squad is the only Dubois County team to ever go undefeated through a regular season and win the single class sectional.
As an ardent fan of Indiana University basketball, he somehow finagled his way onto the court amidst the players after IU’s national championship victories in 1981 and 1987.
And as a long-time supporter of IU athletics, his family’s name is attached to two iconic spots honoring champions on the Bloomington campus – the Henke Spirit of ’76 Club in Assembly Hall, and the Henke Hall of Champions in the football stadium’s north end zone. The Henke Spirit of ’76 Club, an upscale private club with premier seating that is located above the south basket, honors the undefeated 1976 national champion Hoosiers. A sign below the club’s seats also recognizes that squad’s selection by the NCAA as the #1 All-Time March Madness Team.
Henke, a 1969 graduate of Holland High School, has a bachelor’s degree from the IU Kelley School of Business and a law degree from the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He practiced law for over 20 years, became a real estate developer, and founded the Henke Development Group in Carmel, Indiana. The firm designed the Bridgewater Club, a Pete Dye golf course community in Westfield, and the Grand Park Sports Campus, a 400-acre family sports destination in Westfield that draws over one million visitors annually. The group is currently developing the Chatham Hills golf course community and planning another one called Holliday Farms in Zionsville.
His wife, Kathy, is also an IU graduate, as are his children, Betsy and Brad. So the IU ties run deep. The Henke Hall of Champions, which is both a banquet facility and a museum honoring IU athletic champions, has doorway signs that read “. . . given by Steve, Kathy, Betsy & Brad Henke.”
Steve, a past president of the IU Varsity Club and a board member of the IU Foundation, became involved with the Hall of Champions project because “I thought this would be a good opportunity to donate to create something that would be really special, that would be used by a lot of people.” Nearly all of IU Athletics’ ceremonies are held in the hall, as well as weddings and staff meetings.
As far as his name being attached to the Henke Spirit of ’76 Club, he recalled the university looking for people to help contribute to finish out the Assembly Hall renovation a few years ago. After hearing detailed plans for the club, Henke said, “I thought that would be a really good thing, and it was a bit similar to what I had done (with the Hall of Champions), so I thought this would be a really good cause and get used a lot.”
Starting guard Quinn Buckner, the leader of the 1976 champs, said in a phone interview, “Steve and Kathy have been great supporters of IU. There are 700,000-plus alumni (that) should be thankful that Steve and Kathy have felt as strongly about their relationship with the university (to provide) the gifts they generously have done. (The Henke Spirit of ’76 Club) is fantastic, it brings back memories, it is terrific. I also think it’s important that people understand the humane capacity Steve and Kathy have shown. (Like) Grand Park, all of those things, for mankind, these are extraordinary projects that he’s involved in. I think it says a lot about who (Steve and Kathy) are.”
As a fan, Henke has a unique knack for celebrating IU’s national basketball titles. While he couldn’t attend the 1976 championship game because he was studying in law school, he made quite an appearance on the court after IU’s next two crowns. In 1981, the Louisville Courier-Journal published a picture of IU players Landon Turner and Ray Tolbert with the ladder at the rim for the net-cutting ritual. Helping hold them up at the ladder is Henke. After IU’s 1987 win, Henke accessed the court by convincing a security officer he was part of the media by flashing some statistics sheets he picked up on press row. Today, he can call up a YouTube video clip on his phone showing him squeezing his head between IU player Keith Smart and Coach Bob Knight during a CBS post-game interview on the court. He helped hold the ladder for the players to cut the nets that time, too.
But as much as Henke recently enjoyed sitting in the Spirit of ’76 Club telling IU basketball stories, he said there is nothing better than his Holland hoops memories. “People often talk about the movie Hoosiers. I lived the movie Hoosiers,” he said (referring to playing on Holland’s two sectional champions against larger schools, particularly Jasper). Asked if he still had pieces of those sectional nets, he grinned and said he brought them along. He also showed a photo on his phone of a newspaper clipping from 1968 which noted Holland was ranked number nine in the state, alongside large-town teams from Evansville, East Chicago, Columbus, Carmel, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne. Holland’s student enrollment was under 100, and the high school closed through consolidation four years later.
Henke cited a number of reasons for Holland’s success in 1967 and 1968. “We had an absolutely incredible coach, Woody Neal, who was just way before his time. We had 15 defenses for every game. Nobody was running that many defenses. Most teams had no idea what we were doing. We’d change on the fly, and the other team couldn’t adjust. And we were in such good shape, practicing from 2:30 to 6:30 every day. We loosened up by jumping over a board about a hundred times. We wore lead-weighted tennis shoes, even in game warm-ups. I never saw anybody else do that. In our defensive drills, we had to hold a towel behind our back so we couldn’t use our arms. And we actually wore four-buckle boots over our tennis shoes. You knew the defensive drills were coming up when coach said, ‘Buckle up, boys.’ We ran bleachers with the boots on. We ran sprints at the end of practice while carrying somebody on our back. He made us run cross country. It was hard work, but we didn’t mind. We would have done anything Woody told us to do, we totally believed in him, and he had our back. After having those practices, we could run the whole game. Obviously, we had talent (future NBA star Don Buse was Henke’s running mate at guard) but Woody also really developed our talent with all the different drills.”
Neal was also a motivator. Henke recalls Neal’s talk to the team before they played Jasper in the 1967 sectional. “There was probably a lot of anxiety,” he said. “Woody told us, ‘Boys, I don’t know if we should play Jasper or not. I got this telegram sent to me. It said, you Dutchmen from Holland might as well stay home, you have no business playing in the sectional against the Wildcats, you might as well stay home and just milk your cows, your time will be better spent.’ We players were angry, whether somebody really sent (the telegram) or not, I don’t know, but we believed it, and that probably fired us up more than anything.”
Holland beat Jasper in the championship game, 62-52. Henke’s dad, Hank, was so excited he flung his sport coat into the air and it got caught up in the Huntingburg gym’s rafters.
“The next day, we decorated our cars and paraded through Jasper, and the police ran us out,” said Henke, with a laugh. “There were a lot of Holland people in that caravan. The police said, ‘you guys better get out of town,’ so we did.” Later, the team rode on a fire truck through a jammed downtown Holland. That parade was repeated the next year after beating Jasper, Huntingburg, and Ferdinand for the title. The one class sectional in those years, with all Dubois County teams participating, was serious stuff. Henke, whose family owned Holland Dairy at the time, noted that the business lost about 60 accounts around the county after winning those sectionals.
“Winning back-to-back sectionals was so cool because it meant everything to the town,” said Henke. “It really hits you how proud the community is. Basketball was everything. After games everybody would go to the one downtown restaurant. Everybody would stand and clap as players walked in.”
Henke admitted that his son, and a co-worker, would often tease him about his Holland Dutchmen stories. Until a couple years ago, when Henke took them on a tour of Dubois County sites. While the trio sat at The Chicken Place bar in Ireland, a patron asked if they were from around here. Henke’s son said, no, but my dad is from Holland. The patron looked at Henke and asked, ‘Are you Steve Henke? You boys won the sectionals in 1967 and 1968.’ Henke, who didn’t know the patron, said, laughing, “I was shocked he knew the years. And my son and his buddy just looked at each other, thinking, did you pay this guy or what? No, that’s just how everybody remembers sports in southern Indiana.”
Henke frequently touts the work ethic and heritage of Dubois County and Holland to his friends and co-workers. To honor his parents’ contributions to the area, he funded the building of a covered shelter house, restrooms, a concession stand, and chairback seating for the Holland baseball diamond and had it dedicated as the Hank & Eloise Henke Stadium & Field “for their love of the game, love of the park, love of Holland, and all they did for Holland.”
“I owe so much to Holland and my family and friends in Dubois County,” said Henke. “I learned a lot about respecting people, and values, and giving back. Athletics has always been in my blood. It’s a great way to support IU and Holland. I got a great education at both places. So it’s fun to give back, not only for building facilities, but the money going to scholarships, to kids going to school that otherwise could not. That’s a real big plus. It’s nice to be able to help someone else to achieve their dreams.”
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