Jackie Hennelly, a Wheatley School teacher for more than three decades and a volunteer with North Shore community organizations for more than a half century, died of an aortic aneurysm last Thursday, Jan. 19. She was 90.
Hennelly taught English at Wheatley from 1963 to 1997 and was also heavily involved with the Girl Scouts of Nassau County for 58 years until her death.
She was known as a fair-minded and dedicated teacher with an infectious laugh who never hesitated to give students the extra help they needed, said Wes Berkowitz, a former Wheatley guidance counselor who worked with her starting in 1979.
“She always pushed kids to go beyond themselves,” Berkowitz said. “She wasn’t happy with just having students meet whatever expectations they might have had.”
Hennelly was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 9, 1926, and graduated from Marymount College in Tarrytown in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy.
She moved to Munsey Park in 1958 with her husband, Edmund Paul Hennelly, an attorney who later served on the U.S. Intelligence Oversight Board under President Ronald Reagan, said Patricia Anglin of Bayville, Hennelly’s daughter.
They divorced in 1974 and Jackie Hennelly moved to Garden City in 1983, Anglin said. She never remarried.
Hennelly’s involvement with the United Fund of Manhasset and other community organizations led her to be the first woman appointed to Munsey Park’s Planning and Zoning Commission, Anglin said.
Hennelly never let gender stand in her way, Anglin said. When she was called for jury duty and asked what her husband did for a living, she told the court official, “You’re going to have to answer the question, why didn’t you ask the man ahead of me what his wife does for a living?”
“She really took a situation and really worked on it,” Anglin, 64, said. “She was not somebody who was spouting something off the top of her head.”
Hennelly received a master’s degree in education at Adelphi University in 1964, the year after she started at Wheatley as a student teacher.
She could often be seen in the classroom hours after the end of the school day, giving students extra help or working with the extracurricular groups she advised, said David Israel, who taught English at the Old Westbury school from 1963 to 2007.
Hennelly’s “rollicking personality” and sense of humor helped her reach her students in a unique way, and she always considered outside circumstances that might be affecting a child’s school work, Israel said.
“She had the capacity to coax and wheedle out of kids their powers as writers,” Israel said. “She had patience and a great affection for the children that she taught.”
Hennelly started volunteering with the Girl Scouts in 1960 as a co-leader for Anglin’s troop, then worked her way up to serve as president of what was then the Nassau Council from 1975 to 1978.
In that time, she was instrumental in the merger in the late 1970s of the Nassau Council with the Mid-Island Council to form the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, which today counts 23,000 girls and adults among its members, said Donna Rivera-Downey, the Hicksville-based organization’s chief communication officer.
Hennelly remained active with the Girl Scouts until her death as a member of the Finance and Living History committees, and was scheduled to attend a meeting of the former group on Wednesday, Rivera-Downey said.
“I think she cared about the opportunity for women to build women of courage, confidence and character,” Rivera-Downey said. “I think she recognized that Girl Scouts gave those opportunities to girls and I think that’s what drove her.”
Playing tennis and the bugle were among Hennelly’s main hobbies, Anglin said.
She would sometimes pull out her horn and play “Taps” at 2 a.m. when the family hosted parties, Anglin said.
She also volunteered as a Eucharistic minister at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill.
Hennelly was honored with a funeral mass on Tuesday at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and was buried the same day at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.
She is survived by Anglin, her daughter Pamela Farley of Darien, Conn., five grandchildren and a niece.