Friday, December 24, 2010

40 after 40: Henry Waack


In 1970 Henry Waack was enjoying an established career as a music instructor, director, pianist and critic in Alberta. But when he was invited to be a founding faculty member of a fledgling college in BC, he and his wife talked it over and decided to uproot their family, say good-bye to security and head west.

“It took a lot of soul-searching to make the decision to accept the position at Douglas,” Henry says. “We had a family of six sons and we had to weigh the risk of leaving a very secure situation in Alberta against the lure of being a founding member of a new college.”

He arrived to find that the newly established college did not yet have a campus.

“It was an unusual first year to say the least. Classes were taught wherever we could find an old hall, old school or church,” Henry recalls. “The Music Department opened in North Surrey United Church. The church was also rented out as a daycare centre, so there were lots of little children around. They had to have a nap every afternoon, so we weren’t allowed to play instruments at that time. A year later we moved to portables at Eighth and McBride in New Westminster.”

Henry went on to teach piano concentrators and secondary piano students in the Music program for nearly three decades. Later he teamed up with Dorothy Jones, then the head of the Theatre Department, in producing 14 musicals at the College, and six more in the community.


In 1993 Henry retired from Douglas, but stayed on for another five years part time. He retired from all his teaching duties in 1998 and is currently on contract with the Community Music School.

He’s still going strong. At the age of 82 Henry teaches a large class of piano and theoretical students, performs at various functions and – as he has done for the last 38 years – directs the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church choir.

In the 40 years since he came to Douglas, Henry has had ample time to reflect on the College’s growth and success – not to mention his decision to leave all he knew in Alberta to help establish a brand-new post-secondary institution in what were then the boonies of BC’s Fraser Valley.

“What I learned was what a great impact a good college can have in the community. In music, for example, so many Douglas graduates have gone on to have distinguished careers. I can think of at least 15 Douglas graduates who are heads of music departments at various schools throughout the Lower Mainland.

“When I see the remarkable growth of Douglas College and the impact it has had in the community, I am so glad I made the right decision.”

40 after 40 is a series showcasing our amazing grads and employees in celebration of our 40th anniversary. Check back every Wednesday and Friday for another inspiring story. See more about our 40th on our Anniversary page.