A woman who made her mark in western Connecticut and beyond died this week.
Following a brief illness, Ruth Henderson, 84, died at her home on Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford, Connecticut Tuesday. A dedicated supporter of the arts, culture and open space, Ruth and her late husband Skitch, a musician and former Tonight Show bandleader, formed the New York Pops Orchestra in 1983. Ruth served as its president up until her death. Together the Hendersons established The Silo, a gourmet kitchenware store, cooking school and art gallery on the 300 year-old Hunt Hill farm they moved to in 1968. The store was the first place Liba Furhman, now executive director of the Hunt Hill Farm Trust, visited when she moved to New Milford.
“We walked in the door and there was Ruth Henderson standing right in the store working and putting things away in order on the shelf,” Furhman recalled. “As we walked in she turned, gave us a great smile and started talking with us. Thirty years later, I talk to Ruth all the time. She’s just always been there.”
Henderson was born in Germany in 1930 and moved to the United States in 1951. She and Skitch married in 1958. The couple owned and operated restaurants stretching from New York City down to the Virgin Islands starting in the 1960s.
“She very much had the effects of living in war-time Europe,” her son Hans Henderson said. “So she saw the world as a very uncertain place where you had to work very hard just to be sure of your survival. She never let up on that her whole life.”
The Hendersons were also dedicated conservationists. They worked to permanently preserve the 130 acres of Hunt Hill Farm and list 10 of the property’s buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2003, they established the non-profit Hunt Hill Farm Trust, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.
“My mom was originally German and those two cultures are very similar in the work ethic and striving to make the next generation better off than what you had yourself,” said Hans Henderson.
Furhman, who served as New Milford’s mayor from 1991 to 1995, says Henderson took the causes and people of Litchfield County into her heart and was willing to lend a helping head at the drop of a hat.
“She understood how people connected, how organizations connected and how you really need everybody to work together for common causes,” said Furhman.
Furhman says you can call just about any phone in New Milford and the person on the other end of the line will be able to tell you a different legacy Henderson was able to leave. And the marks the Hendersons made extend beyond Litchfield County lines.
“They were citizens of the world,” Furhman said. “I’m sitting here right now looking at pictures and there they are with President Clinton, President George Bush, at the Kennedy Center honors. They’ve just been everywhere. I’m looking at a picture here of Skitch and President Harry Truman. They just really experienced life and they enjoyed life.”
The Henderons are survived by their son, Hans, daughter Heidi, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.