His family called him “the Bomber,” a reference to his hell-for-leather approach to card games.
Journalists remembered a hardworking colleague who didn’t care about getting credit.
And the University of St. Thomas considered him its No. 1 ambassador, a man who could always be counted on to do what was best for everyone.
Doug Hennes died unexpectedly Thursday at his Mendota Heights home. Hennes, 63, was vice president for government relations and special projects at St. Thomas. He also served the school as vice president for university and government relations from 1990 to 2017.
Before joining St. Thomas, Hennes was a reporter and metro editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where he helped produce two reporting projects that won Pulitzer Prizes for the newspaper in the 1980s. A native of Owatonna, Minn., he graduated from St. Thomas in 1977 and was fiercely loyal to his alma mater.
Hennes was a natural communicator and collaborator, said St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan.
“He would come into a room and start looking for people to have conversations with,” she recalled. “He was a gifted writer, a gifted communicator.
“And he was a historian. Anytime anybody wanted to know something about St. Thomas, go ask Doug, whether it happened 100 years ago or yesterday.”
In the Pioneer Press newsroom, Hennes was “one of the most sincere, genuine, supportive people I’ve ever worked with,” said Jacqui Banaszynski, who won a Pulitzer Prize for chronicling the life and death of an AIDS victim in rural Minnesota.
“In a room of competitive egos and talent, Doug was the guy in the middle of all that who never threw an elbow, never needed to take the credit,” she said. “He was always making sure people had what they needed.”
Most of all, Hennes threw himself passionately into every aspect of life, said his son, Chris Hennes.
“My dad’s most defining characteristic was he loved life, he loved living,” Chris Hennes said. “I know that sounds generic, but he wasn’t the kind to put things off and wait for a bucket list.
“He loved to travel; he skied, he played cards, he loved hanging out with his buddies. He was a man who lived life, and I’m really proud of that.”
Hennes “was an inveterate hearts player,” his son said. “He would shoot the moon almost every hand. So the whole family has a nickname for him: the Bomber. And the catch phrase ‘Get the Bomber,’ which meant trying to stop him from shooting the moon.”
Hennes considered working for St. Thomas his dream job, his son said.
“He was a lifelong Tommie,” Chris Hennes said. “He considered himself incredibly privileged.”
Hennes was a founding board member of ThreeSixty Journalism, a St. Thomas project to encourage young journalists from diverse communities to tell their stories.
“As a former journalist himself and someone connected with that profession, he felt very strongly about it,” his son said.
In addition to his son Chris, Hennes is survived by his wife, Karen; son Nathaniel; daughter Katharine Planton; stepchildren Kelly, Ben, Tim and Katrina Coffey; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral mass will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on the St. Thomas campus. Visitation will be one hour before the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to the University of St. Thomas ThreeSixty Journalism program.