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Tom Heneghan : Businessman, Fireman, & Tango Dancer

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With a secluded log house in the country, a fiancé of thirty years, and a beard down to his belly button, it is easy to say on first glance that Tom Henehgan is not your average man. Well, he isn’t.

Heneghan, 59 years-old and a resident of Eugene for 23 years, hasn’t helped the community in conventional ways, but his winning drive and service to make his community a better place can’t be questioned.

“Being a winner is not about someone else being a loser,” said Heneghan. “I seek out situations where I win by helping others achieve their goals. People are scared of opportunities. Opportunities mean change, and change is risky.”

Heneghan helps people achieve their goals in many ways. One is as the owner of the local company, Wheel Ability. The company builds portable automobile hand controls for paraplegics and amputees, giving the disabled the ability to drive.

“It started off as my friend Jack McCornack’s idea,” Heneghan said. “As a teenager, he taught himself how to build an aircraft and fly. Jack began to associate with other aircraft designers and pilots. With people like that, you have some that die and some become paraplegics. Jack went on to design a hand control for paraplegics, giving them the ability to drive.”

McCornack, according to Heneghan, is a very busy man with many different projects. With Jack off to other projects, in 1986 Heneghan founded the company, Wheel Ability, and began to manufacture and sell the hand controls. Heneghan has seen business double since the first day and has used the internet to market the product more efficiently.

Along with running Wheel Ability, Heneghan also finds time in his busy schedule for another business: providing fire engines to the government to battle forest fires. “I started it five years ago,” Heneghan said. “It’s primarily an excuse for me to get out and fight fires.”

Heneghan owns all the equipment he needs to control a blaze, including his own fire trucks. He ex-plained that someone from the Forest Service or Oregon Department of Forestry will give him and his crew a call and out they will go to fight a fire that could be anywhere in the Northwest.

This isn’t something new for him, as he had experience with fire fighting when he lived in the Los Angeles area. “When I was young I used to leap out of helicopters to fight fires and loved it,” he said. “It was the most fun I ever had.”

Heneghan not only contributes time and effort to forest fires, but he volunteers his engines and time each year to the Oregon Country Fair. “My wife has had a booth there selling greeting cards for close to thirty years now,” he said. “I joined the fire crew team for the event ten years ago. Since then, I have donated an engine for them to use, and each year I bring my own engines as well.”

In addition to volunteering his fire fighting skills and engines, Heneghan also provides classes in the spring for up-and-coming fire fighters wanting to learn more about the field. Although this is a dangerous field to be working in, Jean Heneghan, Tom’s fiancé of thirty years, isn’t too worried about it. “I don’t worry that much,” she said. “There are a lot of jobs that are dangerous, including my job of being a realtor.”

He might be putting himself in danger, but the rush of the job can put Heneghan in trouble. “Some-times I have to control my tendency to run towards fire,” he said.

Fighting out-of-control fires is risky work, but Heneghan’s scariest venture doesn’t involve fire. Instead, it is learning to dance the tango. “Tango is the scariest thing that I have ever done,” he said. “I have been in lots of situations where death seemed an instant away and that does not seem to bother me. But the intimacy of tango can be terrifying.”

Heneghan has been learning to tango for the last seven years and he feels that it is the hardest thing he has ever done.

But Heneghan’s accomplishments and ways he has helped others is not what he is most proud of. His four children is what he points to as his greatest achievement.

“I definitely did not get the kids I deserved, they are wonderful,” said a smiling Heneghan. “I’m thankful that all my kids have done a great job.”

But with everything aside, it is important to see that Tom Heneghan is a man to admire and learn something from. He is a selfless person in a world that is often selfish. He uses his enthusiasm for life and makes others better. “He’s truly a good man,” said Jean Heneghan. “He’s very honest, a caring father, and he also is a wonderful tango dancer.”

Tom Heneghan is an asset to the Eugene community even though his contributions are over-shadowed by his modesty. People will continue to reach goals and dreams because of what he has to offer.

“I like to bring people smack up against an opportunity to live their dream,” Heneghan offers. “The building momentum of a dream is like a wave. I like to surf on people’s dreams. Achieving the goal is crucially important, but the thrill is in the ride.”

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8 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Francisco – New York said:

    The title immediately piqued my interest and the opening paragraph kept it. One reader commented it did not stick with the theme of showing how Tom helps others reach their goals but instead only talked about his own achievements. I disagree. The writer included Tom’s help in designing hand controls to help paraplegics drive, providing fire engines to fight forest fires, and teaching classes to budding firemen.

  • Asia – Hawaii said:

    I thought the story was well written and offered the reader an in-depth look into Heneghan’s philanthropic lifestyle and achievements. I especially appreciated that the writer chose to include multi-dimensional aspects of Heneghan, including his interest in Tango as a key proponent of what makes him a winner. A great article for me relies heavily on an strong introduction and a conclusive ending as well as the ability to capture the true essence of your subject matter and present it clearly in your writing. The fact that this writer was able to achieve this shows a great ability for journalistic writing.

  • Alison Ross said:

    What an amazing and inspiring man this Jack fellow is. However, this article did not do him justice. It started off presenting an idea, got off track and never returned. Its major point, that Mr. Heneghan likes to help others achieve their dreams, was presented in the begining and end of the article; however the remainder of the article instead focused on the dreams that Mr. Heneghan himself has realized and the things he has achieved in his life.

    One of the article’s first statements was, “Being a winner is not about someone else being a loser,” said Heneghan. “I seek out situations where I win by helping others achieve their goals. People are scared of opportunities. Opportunities mean change, and change is risky.” Then one of the closing statements was,I like to bring people smack up against an opportunity to live their dream,” Heneghan offers. “The building momentum of a dream is like a wave. I like to surf on people’s dreams. Achieving the goal is crucially important, but the thrill is in the ride.” Other than his business of providing equipment for the disabled (which is not to be discounted, do not get me wrong), nowhere else in the article does it mention how Mr. Heneghan goes about bringing people up to an opportunity and helping them to seize it.

    If helping others to attain their goals is what Mr. Heneghan likes to focus on, I would like to have seen examples of this. The author should have provided detailed examples of people that benefitted from the sponsorship and encouragement of Mr. Heneghan. I would like to have read about the paraplegic that achieved mobility because of Mr. Heneghan’s products or the troubled teen that became a fireman because of Mr. Heneghan’s sponsorship. I think Mr. Heneghan himself would have liked the article to focus more on the people he has helped.

    I also was confused about Jack McCornack. I didn’t understand why he was related to the article. I kept getting the two men mixed up at first and had to go back several times to the beginning of the article to see who was who and which the article was writing about.

    The article drew me in because of mention of the tango. I was disappinted that more information was not offered about this facet of Tom Heneghan’s life. With such a dramatic statement presented about his trepidations of dancing the tango, I am surprised that this did not get more in-depth treatment from the author. I think this deserved a lot more attention, and I believe the readers were left hanging about this aspect of him. What an astute observation that was given by one of the posters above, that perhaps his fear of intimacy is the reason that he has never gotten married! I wonder if he dances with his fiancee or with another partner primarily? I also wonder what made him want to learn in the first place? All these questions are left unanswered!

    I do not like how the occasional sentence in the articles in your magazine are boldfaced. It makes the articles seem sensational, and the highlighting seems arbitrary to me.

  • Cecilia – Argentina said:

    I am currently taking Tango lessons myself. The subject of the article, Mr. Heneghan, represents the forces of good in the world and I found much to be pleased with in the writing. The opening gives the reader an image of the Heneghan and the article includes some poignant quotations such as, “I have been in lots of situations where death seemed an instant away and that does not seem to bother me. But the intimacy of tango can be terrifying.” Including this aspect of Heneghan in the article makes the subject more multi dimensional.

  • Karen Beebe -- Pennsylvania said:

    What a character! Businessman, volunteer, tango dancer, all-around winner, Mr. Heneghan is a man I’d like to know. What really struck me is his assertion that “being a winner doesn’t mean someone else has to be a loser.” He’s made a success of his life without stepping on others–a laudable accomplishment in this competitive world.

    I found humorous his fear of tango dancing. He is obviously a risk-taker, finding it difficult not to rush off to fires. How revealing that he finds the intimacy of dancing frightening–perhaps that’s why he’s been engaged for thirty years without taking the obvious next step.

    Anyway, God bless him for his good cheer and spirit of adventure.

  • Roy -- Argentina said:

    I truly believe in your objectives and have tried to live my own life taking advantage of many opportunities and inspiring others to follow their goals and dreams. I particularly liked the story about Tom Heneghan and his inspirational activities.

  • Joyce -- Canada said:

    Such a positive reflection on the lives of our world-wide brothers and sisters is invigorating, as well as educational. Take, for instance, this story about “Tom Heneghan: Businessman, Fireman, & Tango Dancer.” Most of us, upon seeing his photo alone, would draw all kinds of inaccurate conclusions about the man. One could say, “That’s the way we humans think.” However, thanks to the article written by Brent Henzi, we recall the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

    Overall, I was fascinated by Mr. Heneghan’s activities and the article kept my interest. I must say that the final paragraph is a creative and visual ending that I enjoyed.

  • Katharyn T -- Washington said:

    “Being a winner is not about someone else being a loser.” Solid and helpful advice that will stay with me forever.

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