Staff members walk to honor Bob Hentzen

October 25, 2013

This story was published in 2013 when we were known as CFCA. In January 2014, we changed our name to Unbound. Check this section of our website often for stories about the families we serve around the world and the news that impacts them.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — On a clear and crisp autumn day, CFCA staff members walked about 2 miles to a memorial service for CFCA President and Co-founder Bob Hentzen, who passed away Oct. 8 in Guatemala.

It was a fitting tribute to a leader who made "walking with" the world's poor and marginalized his life's work.

CFCA staff members walk to honor Bob's life.
CFCA staff members walk to honor Bob's life.

"It seems like the only appropriate way to go to a memorial service for Bob," said Dan Pearson, CFCA director of international programs, as he walked to the service Oct. 24 with a group of about 75 staff members. "It symbolizes the commitment to keep his spirit animating the organization."

The walk, led by CFCA Director of Global Strategy Paul Pearce, started at CFCA's international headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., crossed the state line into Kansas City, Mo., and wound through the neighborhood where Hentzen grew up. It ended at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Church, where a memorial Mass was celebrated.

Family members, friends and CFCA staff members attended the Mass, which was celebrated by Redemptorist Father Richard Quinn, a boyhood friend of Hentzen's. Father Thomas Kearns and Father Bob Hasenkamp, both of the Kansas City, Kan., archdiocese, and Father Jerry Morgan of the Salina, Kan., diocese, concelebrated.

Paco Wertin, CEO of CFCA, said he was deeply moved by the outpouring and expression of love for Hentzen and his family.

"May that circle be unbroken; may that sacred space be a place where you can be healed," Wertin said in remarks at the memorial service.

CFCA will continue to draw strength from Hentzen's belief in the CFCA worldwide community, Wertin said.

"Bob believed in us all so much that we will move down this road together," he said.

Hentzen's unconventional leadership style, in which walking was a central theme, was based on his unwavering belief in the potential of people living in poverty, and his commitment to listening to and learning from them.

Bob's walking gear hangs next to a portrait of him at the memorial Mass.
Bob's walking gear hangs next to a portrait of him at the memorial Mass.

In more than a half century of living and working in marginalized communities overseas, Hentzen visited the homes of thousands of families living in poverty. He completed two major treks to show the children, families and elderly people CFCA serves that he loved them and believed in them.

In 1996, Hentzen walked from Kansas City to Guatemala, covering 4,000 miles and visiting communities along the way where CFCA sponsored members and families lived.

In 2011, he completed an 18-month journey from Guatemala to Chile, walking nearly 8,000 miles through 12 countries where more than 183,000 families in the CFCA program live. He celebrated his 75th birthday while on the walk.

Karen Allemang, CFCA trip and volunteer manager who coordinated the second walk and Hentzen's visits to CFCA projects around the world, said Hentzen spent all but about six weeks of the year on the road, visiting projects and visiting with families, staff members and sponsors.

"It's important for all of us to be together," Allemang said, while walking with colleagues to the memorial service. "He would love this (staff members walking together), he really would."

Martin Kraus, director of finance at CFCA, said Hentzen devoted his life to connecting people of different cultures, races, religions and economic backgrounds for their mutual benefit.

"Bob was all about building community and relationships, and that's what I see here today," Kraus said.

At a reception at CFCA headquarters after the Mass, longtime CFCA sponsor Esther Rogers said she knew Hentzen from traveling on CFCA trips to Venezuela and Guatemala.

"I just feel like being involved in CFCA and traveling with Bob has enriched my life more than I can say," Rogers said. "I wanted to pay my respects."

Family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of Bob Hentzen.
Family and friends gathered to celebrate the life of Bob Hentzen.

Rogers took note of how Hentzen related to the children, families and elderly people served by CFCA.

"I was in awe of him, the way he sang with the kids and talked to them," she said. "He was a saint."

Scott Wasserman, chief governing officer, said Bob's legacy will be a source of strength for CFCA as it continues its service in the world.

"The basics of Bob's teaching were that it starts with people," Wasserman said. "You save the world by building one-to-one relationships between actual people.

"That was his gift, that was his charism, that was his insight."

Hentzen, 77, was laid to rest Oct. 12 in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, where he lived with his wife, Cristina.

He started CFCA in 1981 with siblings Bud, Jim and Nadine Pearce and family friend Jerry Tolle, and was preceded in death by them.

Hentzen is survived by his wife, six children, 11 grandchildren, two sisters, numerous nieces and nephews, and seven sponsored children.

Memorials may be made by sponsoring a child or donating to the CFCA Scholarship Fund.

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Education is the greatest hope children living in poverty have for a better life. The Unbound Scholarship Program helps deserving students pursue their educational goals of finishing high school, technical training or university. Not only does it provide assistance with tuition, transportation or books, but it also provides students with much-needed encouragement to complete their education. Learn more »

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