By Katie McFadden
Happy birthday to Gert Hendry, of Breezy Point, who on Thursday, March 9, turns 100! But you’d never know it when you see this young-at-heart spirit. In 2016, when she was still teaching dance at the ripe age of 93, The Rockaway Times featured Gert in a “Women of the Peninsula” series. In honor of Gert’s big birthday, we’re re-printing that story today. May Gert be forever young!
When Gert Hendry approaches you, she comes with a hug and a huge dose of LOVE, the same approach she takes when it comes to her dance classes. Mrs. Hendry may be 93 years old, but you wouldn’t know it when you see her in action at the Breezy Point Clubhouse, sharing her love of dance with little ones 90 years younger.
Mrs. Hendry and her late husband, Andy, have a large family that spans several generations, from their children, Karen, Laura Jean and Raymond William, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, most of whom continue to live in Breezy Point. “I’m surrounded by love,” she said. However, her family goes far beyond blood. If you live in Breezy Point, you know Mrs. Hendry. Either she taught you, your child or grandchild how to dance. Mrs. Hendry has lived in her bayside home since her father bought it in 1928, when she was just five years old, and she has made a loving impact on several generations of neighbors, especially the youth, and even the elderly, through her teaching, writing for the Rockaway Point News for 30 years, and much more. “Teaching dance, writing a column for teens, pre-teen and working with children, young people and the elderly has been a part of my life as long as I can remember,” Mrs. Hendry said.
Mrs. Hendry has dedicated much of her life to impacting the youth of the community. “Going back, beginning with being a Girl Scout Leader, coaching swimming at Tilden High School, and being involved with softball, I’ve always been working with youth,” she said. Mrs. Hendry says she, along with her husband, Andy, and Bob Wright and his wife, formed the Teen Club many years ago so the children of Rockaway, Roxbury and Breezy Point had something to do. She was also instrumental in starting one of the biggest teen summer programs, the Annual Teen Show. “In 1972, Ruth Clarke, secretary of the Breezy Point Coop called and asked if I, along with Maryellen Barnes, would work with the teens, creating a show each year during the summer months to keep young people busy and to help them display any talent they may have. We are in our 44th year of the Annual Breezy Point Teen Show,” she said. Mrs. Hendry has also been a part of the Coop’s youth committee since it started. Every week, you’ll find Gert’s Teen News column in the Pointer, which she’s been doing for more than 30 years. “I’ve never missed one,” she said. Mrs. Hendry makes sure to end each column with an inspirational quote and her tagline, “Be well and God bless.” Mrs. Hendry’s impact on the community was recognized about 10 years ago when the street outside the Colony Theater was named Gert Hendry Plaza.
While she has influenced the youth in many ways, dance has served as one of her biggest gifts to the community. “Dance is, has been and will always be the joy of my life,” she said. Mrs. Hendry began dancing at a young age, first learning from a Rockette, at the age of five. She recalls dancing at the Paramount Theater, where Frank Sinatra had his start. One of her favorite songs to dance to and share with her students is Sinatra’s appropriately named title, “Young at Heart.” Dance also played a role in her budding romance with her beloved Andy. “I danced at the Colony Theater, the heart of the Teen Show, with my beloved Andy at 13 years old with a jukebox playing,” she recalled. In 1976, Mrs. Hendry began teaching dance at 53 years old. She taught in Rockaway at Dance Dimension and Miss Elizabeth’s for 10 years. In Breezy Point, she started teaching at the Square Club, part of Christ Community Church, and now home to Theresa Hyland’s, Little Red Wagon. From there, she went on to teach at St. Edmunds until Hurricane Sandy, but that didn’t stop her. “The joy of giving back to my community after Sandy had been the highlight of my life,” she said. Mrs. Hendry has since continued her lessons at the Breezy Point Clubhouse, where she is assisted by her senior assistant, Alana McCarthy, who was a student of Mrs. Hendry’s since she was four, as well as Amanda Stiles and Elizabeth Daly.
Every Wednesday and Thursday, Mrs. Hendry puts on her leotard, skirt and neck scarf as she goes to work, teaching groups of three-to-seven year olds, ballet, tap and tumbling. However, fancy footwork isn’t the most important lesson learned. “Hugs and listen and learn, as well as friendship and respect, have been a part of my teaching,” she said. Mrs. Hendry starts each class with a hug and ends each class by giving her students a cookie and a sticker on their class card. She continues to show that love to students even after they’ve grown out of her classes. She sends hundreds of birthday cards every month to students past and present. “The mail deliverers are grateful since the piles of mail helps them keep their jobs,” she said.
Mrs. Hendry starts her lessons in the fall and ends in the spring. Throughout the year, Mrs. Hendry’s students have performed for the elderly. “While teaching all these years, my little dancers have brought happiness, joy and LOVE to the elderly in various nursing homes,” she said. In the spring, the students get to show off their hard work to their families during “a little show” at the Clubhouse. “Our little dance show will be May 11 and 12, ending another happy, joyful season with the children I love,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to another great year ahead. Mrs. Hendry says her love and faith keeps her going. “My faith has kept me strong, as well as the old saying ‘‘Tis love that makes the world go ‘round’ by Charles Dickens.”
Mrs. Hendry has no plans to retire. “I’ll continue until my legs won’t work, as long as the good Lord lets me,” she said. “I love it. I love being with the little ones and I love what I do.”