It was Benjamin Henley's day. The former vice superintendent of the D.C. Schools smiled as he greeted some of the people he loved best - educators, school board officials, parents, volunteers and students. They had all come out to honor Henley at a luncheon held recently at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library.
The occasion was the annual spring luncheon of the Widening Horizon career incentive program Henley founded in 1961 with Dorothy Goldberg, wife of the former secretary of labor. Dorothy Goldberg and Grace (Gay) Vance, wife of the secretary of state, were at the luncheon.
More than 80,000 District youths have been involved in the program that gives youngsters a view of the work world through field trips to federal and private agencies. From time to time, guest speakers lecture at the five schools participating in the program.
"This has been a lovely party," said Henley. "When the Urban Service Corps was formed in 1961 it was based on the assumption that there were people in the community who had skills and resources they would be willing to give to our students."
Henley directed the Urban Corps of Volunteers who formulated programs to help curb violence and juvenile delinquency in the city schools. Out of their concern developed an alliance between many federal agencies and the local school system, which resulted in the Widening Horizons program, said Henley.
Henley credited Goldberg with helping force open the doors of the State Department, the pentagon, museums and other agencies still involved in the program. The magnitude of the "horizon was her dream," he said.
"No! It was yours," protested Goldberg from the audience.
Widening Horizon students were well represented at the the luncheon. Sousa Junior High School sent its 89 member gospel chorus to entertain the 110 guests. They performed two numbers, accompanied by student percussionist Clarence Parks and pianist Gloria Clanton, director of the group. Soloists were Tracey Lee, Daniel Harrison, Darlene Price, Macia Williams and Brian little.
A medley of Broadway tunes were performed by Yvonne Howard, Roaenetta Mayes, Paul Harrison and Joe Cornish, all students of voice coach Grace Bradford at the Theater School, a two-year-old performing and visual arts school in the District. They were accompanied by pianist Dennis pitasi.
George A. Clanton, director of Widening Horizons was master of ceremonies.
Dr. Otho E. Jones, assistant superintendent for career development in the D.C. Schools, spoke of the personal challeges Henley and Widening Horizons have presented to him. And last year, in the absence of summer school in the District, the program provided learning experiences for more than 5,000 youths, said Clanton. They expect to have as many participants this year, he added.
Later Goldberg conceded that the program marked "the first time the federal government acknowledged the validity of the children in the District. It was in the Kennedy administration, and I do think a lot of doors were opened at that time that were further widened in the Johnson administration through the antiproverty program. But it began with Kennedy."
"I blush now," she continued. "This was before women's lib, but I just swung my husband's weight around. My husband was secretary of labor and I found his name opened a lot of doors that would have otherewise been closed.
"I also acknowledge an indebtedness to Angles Meyer because she was very much involved in the schools.
The Mayer Foundation provided the first grants to begin the program, which is now funded with federal grants, she said.
Vance said she became involved "on account of Goldberg. My husband was deputy secretary of defense then."
She said she found the program "so enjoyable," she went on tours with the youths to monitor the way federal agencies were handling the program.
She is also a former chairman of the Widening Horizon board.
Before retiring in 1972, Henley had been a teacher, principal and administrator in D.C. school system for 41 years. His wife Adelaide, who also attended the luncheon, is a former teacher as well.
"Many of our students were limited in what they thought was possible for them to achieve," said Henley. Now, "the work horizon has been widened for them."