Rebecca Hencke, 67, of Belmont, passed away March 13, 2020. Rebecca was born in Oklahoma City, OK and was the oldest of three. She is survived by her parents Ray and Carolyn Whitson and younger siblings Esta Hardy and Eddie Whitson.
Rebecca “Beckie” lived as a devoted wife to James Hencke for nearly 48 years, loving mother to Andy Hencke, Teresa Fox, and Michael Hencke and “Grammy/Mimi” to grandchildren Levi, Kaya, Evan, Evelyn, and Abby.
Rebecca was pushing against societal restrictions for women from a young age. At the recommendation of her elementary school teacher she began reading more advanced books from the public library, starting with “A”. At some point she came across a book the librarian thought too mature and refused to loan her. After an intervention from her teacher, she continued her reading one book at a time. As one of only two girls in her high school physics class, Rebecca’s success created waves among her peers. One particular exam created problems when Rebecca’s score in the 90s caused the rest of the class (with scores in the 30s) to fail. She graduated Valedictorian and continued to pursue a life of education and the education of others.
Prior to and during her Master’s in Early Childhood Education she taught Preschool and Kindergarten using the Montessori Method for many years, continuing as she completed her Master’s in Psychology. During those years she also developed and implemented early childhood religious education programs at both the Lotus Center and her local Methodist church. Her focus was on the children’s learning and education on child development for the parents. She took every opportunity that arose to educate and inform others on developing child programs, including Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, and an international playgroup. She accepted many invitations as a guest speaker to college classes in psychology and early childhood education. With little disposable income she pursued private school education for her two oldest children.
At the age of 36 she moved her family from rural Oklahoma to Wayland Massachusetts in order to pursue her PhD in Research Psychology at Harvard University and to access top public school education for her three children. After completing her PhD, and some time in research statistics, Rebecca returned to the classroom as a Professor of Psychology at UMass Boston. Her teaching style was always inclusive; she developed her own grading system and enjoyed incorporating non-traditional assignments into her coursework. From 1999 to 2011 she and James ran the Pre-K Religious Education class First Friends, of Montessori style,at The First Church in Belmont, UU. The RE program was more than a volunteer position for her. Over the course of 12 years she developed a full curriculum that she then submitted to the Unitarian Universalist Association, hoping it would be adopted nationally.
In addition to her commitment to early childhood education and the pursuit of education (which she got from her father), she was also skilled in sewing, baking, crocheting, interior design, and the odd renovation project (mostly inspired by her mother). She has also authored several unpublished books for young children.
A memorial service celebrating Rebecca’s life will be scheduled once when the First Church in Belmont reopens. Cards only may be sent in care of James Hencke, 68 Waverley St., Belmont, MA. 02478. In lieu of flowers, consider making a donation to The Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center helping children with Failure to Thrive https://www.bmc.org/programs/grow-clinic or The American Liver Foundation to support research on early diagnosis and treatment of Liver Disease https://liverfoundation.org.