By Loretta Shea Kline, CFCA communications editor
A memorial mass for Bob Hentzen was celebrated at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Quezon City, Philippines. The mass was attended by 1,000 sponsored children, youth and aging adults, staff members and friends of CFCA from the Quezon, Antipolo and Manila projects.
We got the call while traveling from the picturesque mountain city of Baguio to the charming seaside town of Agoo, where CFCA serves 3,200 families through our project in Quezon City, Philippines.
CFCA’s Philippines communications liaison, Teejay Cabrera, answered his cell phone and listened for a bit. From the look on his face, I could see something was wrong.
“There’s bad news,” he said. “Sir Bob has passed away.”
Disbelief is the best way I can describe our reaction. Bob Hentzen, CFCA president and co-founder, always so strong and so vibrant, had passed away of natural causes Oct. 8, at age 77.
I had just spent a week with Bob and the Rise and Dream tour team in New York, the second leg of a two-city tour that also included Kansas City. It was one of the best weeks of my 13 years at CFCA.
The reaction of audiences to the film and to the talks by Bob and Paul Pearce, CFCA director of global strategy, was special, even more so than usual, I thought. I feel blessed that I had that week with Bob out on the road, hearing his stories and songs as he shared CFCA’s work with students, Filipino communities, CFCA sponsors and others who came to see the film.
Bob believed in personal connection, and he modeled that for all of us on the CFCA staff, at the Kansas City headquarters and in the field.
He led one of the 200 largest nonprofits in America, but he didn’t do it from behind a desk. He led from the road, from the homes of the families CFCA serves in the urban slums and seaside fishing villages.
As we met families in Agoo (pronounced a go’ oh), I felt Bob’s presence there. He believed in the potential of people in poverty to use their talents to stand on their own, and it is happening in Agoo.
Parents of sponsored children showed us the rice mill, tailoring shop, wholesale store, peanut butter production and various food sales operations they began with capital and encouragement from CFCA. The businesses were providing income for parents so they could give their children a better life.
Bob also believed in growing the staff from the grassroots.
Geselle Cipriano, social worker; Miriam Laron, correspondence assistant; and Noel Garcia, livelihood officer; all former sponsored children and college graduates from the community, showed us the bright future of CFCA as they guided us through our visits in Agoo.
The staff is led by Benedictine Sister Mary Josephine Difuntorum, who told me that Bob had inspired her in her work, especially when it came to believing in the families and their ability to achieve their dreams.
“He had the air that attracted people to really want to work with him for the poor,” Sister Mary Josephine said. “Whenever I was near him, I felt the vibration was very strong, to love the very poor ones.”
“He made me realize working with the poor is working with the angels.”