Just last year, Hensgens Park was opened right next to the Crowley Recreation Department on land that he donated to the city. The park contains four baseball fields and will soon be the home of the Glady Trahan Tennis Centre once construction is completed. However, when speaking with people around town, it becomes obvious that when it comes to sports, his first love is baseball.
“Sometimes I’ll be walking by his office and I’ll see Dad looking out the window at the park,” said his son Michael Hensgens. “I’ll ask him ‘is one of the kids (Hensgens three great grandsons Tripp, Matthew and Zachary Mixon who play in the Crowley Recreation League) playing?’ And he’ll say ‘no I just like watching the kids play...all they do is learn, laugh and have fun’.”
Today, Ray Hensgens will be celebrating his 80th birthday doing what he loves - hosting the youth who play baseball at the Crowley Recreation Department with free snow-cones and Icees to anyone of them, regardless if they are playing are not, who wear their uniforms to the park beginning at 5:15 p.m. And he will be given the honor of throwing out the first pitch.
When asked ‘if his father has been practicing for his big toss?,’ Michael laughed.
“I think he may be out there all afternoon.”
There was a time nearly 60 years ago when Hensgens didn’t require much practice to throw a baseball. A member of the Crowley Millers minor league baseball team in 1950 and 1951, Hensgens was an up and coming pitcher for the team and was traded to a team in Tampa Bay. However, he didn’t accept the offer. It seems that prior to the offer, a pretty girl named Catherine “Kitty” Schneider from Iota had caught his eye.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure Dad didn’t take it because he didn’t want to be so far away from my mother,” said Michael.
So while a promising baseball career was coming to an end another chapter of Hensgens life was just beginning. After marrying Kitty in 1951, Hensgens went to work for Barney Earles and C.J. Freeland in their rice mill. He worked his way up to the position of salesman and then became a rice grader and buyer. In 1955, he was hired as a rough rice buyer by A.B. Dore Jr. (father of Crowley Alderman Elliot Dore) where he remained for the next 27 years. In 1964, while still employed by Dore he was allowed to sell seed rice and soybean seed during the ‘offseason.’ Eventually, his offseason business outgrew the space provided by Dore and Ray’s Seed and Fertilizer was born. About the same time, he and a partner opened the first car wash in Crowley.
According to Michael, ‘business was good and the days were long.’
“Of course with little overhead - Mom was his bookkeeper and we (his four children) were his ‘volunteers’ - it didn’t hurt,” Michael said with a laugh.
Ray’s Seed and Fertilizer eventually became G&H Seed Company and over the next 40 years Hensgens hard work paid off as did his business. He also opened up Liq-QuickFertilizer Company. Hensgens Grain Elevator, Inc., Hensgens Fertilizer Company and Quality Equipment to serve local farmers. And through it all his style never changed and to this day people still regard him as a very humble man.
In so far as giving back to the community, his contributions include being a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus Council 1318, the Crowley Rotary Club, the Notre Dame Athletic Association and a President and member of the Louisiana Seedsmen’s Association among many others. He has also contributed to many causes in Crowley including, but far from limited to, the St. Michael Adoration Chapel, the Acadia Parish Heart Association, the United Way and the Special Olympics.
And what has he meant to the Crowley Recreation Department?
“Aside from the generous amount of land he donated he has always helped out by letting us use his equipment to keep up the fields and helping us to maintain the center,” said Crowley Recreation Director Tim Robicheaux. “He has just been tremendous when it comes to his dedication to the recreation department.”
So when Ray Hensgens takes the mound to throw out the first pitch this afternoon, even if it is ‘just a bit outside’ he will hopefully be the recipient of a standing ovation.
It would be a fitting birthday present for a man who has given so much.