By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Bob Hentzen was a walker, walking as the poor and marginalized walk, to work, to play and to worship. In the past two decades, he took two long walks; the first in 1996 was a 4,000 mile, eight and a half month trek from Kansas City, Kan., to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. He was 60 years old. The second, a 14 month walk from Guatemala to Chile, a total of 8,000 miles through twelve countries, began Dec. 29, 2009 and ended in April 2011. In an email to The Catholic Key during, “walk 2gether,” he said that “walking with the poor enabled him … to be taken as an equal and a friend.” Bob turned 75 shortly after finishing that walk.
A co-founder of the global organization Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, headquartered in Kansas City, Kan., Bob was in New York in September for a film tour of Rise and Dream, a documentary produced by CFCA, when he become ill. Bob and his wife, Cristina, returned to their home in Guatemala. His doctor sent him to the Hermano Pedro hospital in Antigua, where, on Oct. 8, Bob died. He was 77.
As the church in San Lucas Toliman was too small to accommodate all who wished to attend the services, Bob’s wake was held in the Founders Hall of CFCA’s Hermano Pedro project office. The funeral Mass Oct. 12 was held in the office’s multi-use activity area where sponsored children and aging meet their sponsors. This is a multi-use area with seating around the outside of the area and an open-air roof. Bob was buried in the San Lucas Toliman Cemetery.
Memorial Masses were held in Guatemala, India, the Philippines and other countries where Bob and CFCA have made a difference in the lives of families and children.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Church, Bob’s childhood parish, was the site of the Oct. 24 memorial Mass for Bob in his hometown, Kansas City.
In his honor, about 150 CFCA staff members, decided to walk the two and a half miles from their offices on Southwest Blvd., just southwest of 31st Street, to the church at Linwood Blvd. and Broadway. Led by Paul Pearce, director of Global Strategy, they walked and sang in the cool afternoon air, following a banner saying, “Walking in Honor of Bob.”
When they reached the church, they joined the many friends, family members and CFCA sponsors who had come to remember Bob.
The Mass, concelebrated by retired Father Thomas Kearns, in residence at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan., a CFCA sponsor; Father Robert Hasenkamp, a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., and a CFCA presenter and sponsor; Father Jerry Morgan, a priest of the Diocese of Salina and a CFCA presenter, with Bob’s childhood friend, Redemptorist Father Richard Quinn, as the principal celebrant, focused on the joy and feelings of safety Bob helped bring to the poor throughout his life. Along with the staff and many friends, Bob’s wife, Cristina, their children, grandchildren and extended family attended.
Bob Hentzen was born March 29, 1936, in Kenny Heights, Kan., but moved to Kansas City, Mo., when he was a child. One of 14 children, he learned a deep faith and caring spirit from his parents. He attended Redemptorist Grade School and De LaSalle High School. Father Quinn, who “became acquainted with Bob in first grade,” remembered Bob at a baseball game when they were about eight. “He was standing in front of home plate, wearing his catcher’s mask and shin guards, shouting out encouragement and directions. That was a trait that would eventually breathe life into CFCA.”
After high school, Bob entered La Salle Institute, a formation house for the Christian Brothers in Glencoe, Mo. He graduated from St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn., in 1957 and began teaching at a Catholic high school in Chicago.
Bob began his life as a Christian Brother serving four years in Colombia, and later six years in Guatemala. Living with and serving the poor, he fell in love with them, said Pearce. “He could never be the same after that.”
Bob later left the order and taught in the St. Louis area, but never forgot the families he had met in Colombia and Guatemala, who had inspired him. He wanted to introduce others to them, which led to the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.
In 1981, Bob and former Jesuit priest Jerry Tolle, who had served in Honduras, were working together at a Kansas City charity and remembering the poor they had met and been inspired by. Bob talked to his brothers Bud and Jim and sister, Nadine Pearce and, in November, the siblings and Tolle met in Bob’s basement to start a not for profit agency in honor of the Hentzen’s parents. Remembering the poverty in Guatemala, Colombia and Honduras, Bob and Jerry Tolle suggested a relationship-forming sponsorship organization. The Hentzens and Tolle wrote a letter that was sent to family and friends on their Christmas card lists, asking for support. They got it.
Bob’s basement became their first headquarters. In 1991, the foundation converted an abandoned Kansas City, Kan., warehouse into what is still the headquarters of one of the top 200 U.S. nonprofits.
Currently there are more than 300,000 sponsored children and elderly poor in 24 countries across Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Since 1981, Pearce said, “Through Bob’s effort and example, more than 700,000 people on the margins of society believe in themselves.”
Tens of thousands lined the streets of San Lucas Toliman in Bob’s honor as his funeral cortege drove to the funeral Mass, reported CFCA’s website, cfcausa.org.
At the Memorial Mass in Kansas City, five of his grandchildren brought up the Offertory gifts. Besides Cristina, Bob is survived by two sisters, his six children and their spouses, 11 grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews and seven sponsored children. Jake Hentzen spoke to family and friends, expressing gratitude to “Dad for life, vision, fearlessness, loyalty, patience, music, adventure, love, leadership,” and more. “Rest in peace and may your heart be forever free.”
He joined Paul Pearce and Barclay Martin, a Kansas City recording artist and composer who composed much of the music for the documentary, Rise and Dream, and who works with CFCA, in singing and accompanying on guitar Ada Habershon’s 1907 hymn that Johnny Cash later popularized: Will the circle be unbroken, By and by, by and by? Is a better home awaiting, In the sky Lord, in the sky?
CFCA chief executive officer Paco Wertin spoke just before the recessional hymn, saying, “May that circle be unbroken and the space within it become a sacred space. Bob taught us how to walk, and we’re going to continue that walk. He helped create a space for us to be ourselves that was so big we could reach out to others.”
A reception followed the Mass at CFCA headquarters.
To learn more about sponsorship, visit www.cfcausa.org