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A big year for Whidbey Telecom, the Hennys

The Whidbey Telecom brain trust: Technical strategist George Henny, vice-president Julia De Martini and president Marion Henny inside the computer server room at company headquarters in Bayview. - Jeff VanDerford
The Whidbey Telecom brain trust: Technical strategist George Henny, vice-president Julia De Martini and president Marion Henny inside the computer server room at company headquarters in Bayview.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

When a business turns 100, it can either ponder the past or look ahead.

The Henny family, owners of Whidbey Telecom, have decided to concentrate on the next century with a host of technologically-oriented ideas to help cement their place in the communications universe on Whidbey Island.

“The big rocks for us are the next generation of broadband access, new e-mail voice services, a retail outlet in Freeland and an electronic storage concept called FiberCloud,” said George Henny, the company’s techno-guru. “And, of course, we’ll be marking our 100th anniversary with a big celebration, the details of which are secret as yet.”

In 1908 a telephone service was established on South Whidbey — with 80 subscribers and 100 miles of wire — by a small group of Langley townspeople. By the time David Henny bought the company in 1953 there were 500 telephones and roughly 7,000 miles of wire, according to Lorna Cherry’s “Langley, the Village by the Sea.”

“David always loved telephones and was passionate about providing the best service,” said Henny’s widow, Marion. “My husband was a visionary.”

Eight years later, in 1961, David Henny buried the lines underground, one of the first telephone systems in the nation to do so. During the storms of recent years, phone service hasn’t suffered as much on the island, one reason many South Enders continue pressure on Puget Sound Energy to do the same with power lines.

Over the years, the company has grown and diversified. Today they have 20,000 subscribers for either telephone or broadband Internet service or both.

The company’s executive team is composed of President Marion Henny and her children, Vice-President Julia DeMartini and George Henny, the resident tech strategist.

It was George Henny who spearheaded the launch of Internet service in 1994 and broadband deployment in 2000.

Today, he’s thinking green.

“We believe that a super-speed Internet connection could be an environmentally responsible idea,” he said.

“If folks worked at home, for example, they would be able to leave their cars in the garage, cutting down on pollution and saving money on fossil fuels.”

Henny is also taking a page from the success of Apple, Inc.’s 198 brick-and-mortar retail outlets which have sprouted at high-end locations throughout the country.

Whidbey Telecom plans to open their own tech-themed retail operation in Freeland later this year.

“We’ll have security and alarm systems available for homes and businesses, an on-site computer repair center, technical service support and maybe some cool gadgets,” Henny said. “It’s still in the planning stage but we want it to be a nice place for people to gather.”

The company will install new voice technology in 2008, including the ability to have voice messages sent to a person’s e-mail for re-play at the customer’s own speed.

Apart from his role at the phone company, Henny is president of the Whidbey Telecom subsidiary FiberCloud — located in Seattle, Everett and Bellingham — which provides small to mid-sized businesses with a redundant and secure environment for high-performance servers.

“We provide data storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions,” Henny said. “This year we’re going to expand our capabilities dramatically.”

It seems unlikely that someone involved in such a high-tech world would have begun his career with a bachelor’s degree in drama from the University of Washington.

“Somewhere, my mother has a picture of me acting in a first-grade play,” Henny said.

“I was always shy so acting is a little out of character. I love acting, but I wanted to be in the family business so I came back here to help my mother and sister.”

He hasn’t abandoned life on the stage, though. He’s on the board of Whidbey Island Community Theater and has been in several plays.

Another passion is medieval history, specifically engines of siege warfare. In the Middle Ages such devices helped smash castle walls to dust. In Henny’s backyard is a fully functioning scale model trebuchet that can hurl a one-pound lead weight 50 feet or more.

“I can send a golf ball a lot farther but I need to fine-tune it first,” he said.

Henny and his wife Tonya have three children — Kiana, Liam and Taryn — and he volunteers as a den leader for Liam’s Cub Scout pack. This year he will begin serving as president of the South Whidbey Rotary Club.

“Community involvement is important to me and this is a great place to be involved,” he said.

The Island Arts Council Whidbey Telecom grants are another way Henny’s family stays in touch.

“The grants are a resource to support and encourage the artistic community, its artists and its patrons,” Henny said.

Above all, Henny plans to continue the tradition of progressive family leadership at Whidbey Telecom.

“My mother has often said the future is built on Whidbey Telecom’s history of forward-looking advanced technology,” Henny said. “That’s not going to change as we move ahead.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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