Tillie Henson speaks at the COM 2017 Juneteenth celebration with her granddaughters
Tillie Henson speaks at the COM 2017 Juneteenth celebration with her granddaughters Tillie Henson, part of COM’s first graduating class with COM’s first president, Herbert Stallworth.

After helping fight to create a community college in mainland Galveston, Tillie Henson became one of the first to take a seat in its classes.

Her cousin, Johnny Henderson, was among COM’s early supporters and convinced her and many others to help him garner support for a community college.

“We passed out photos of babies to let them know we were about to birth something new in community, not only for the generation now but future generations,” said Henson.

The bond passed in 1966, and Henson joined the college’s first classes in fall 1967 at Booker T. Washington School. A business major, she dived into math, typing, short hand, business machines and data processing classes.

“It was a lot of fun because instructors made learning fun,” said Henson. “What I liked about the college was people were so friendly. People took ownership of it. They fought for it for years. Everyone was proud of it. President Stallworth [COM’s first president] wanted nothing but the best for the community and nothing but the best for the students.”

She became a student worker in the social and behavioral sciences department and then in the library.

“I needed a job. My husband passed away from throat cancer when my youngest was three. I needed to focus on my two sons,” said Henson.

After graduation Henson was hired full-time at the COM Library, where she served 42 years. She volunteered with projects such as the COM Multicultural Committee and helped organize Juneteenth, Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month events, and the COM International Festival. 

“I continued to get certifications because I wanted to improve what I was doing and I wanted to learn more skills,” said Henson.

She later helped others learn new skills as a COM computer instructor for the business department for about seven years.

Decades later, she’s still dedicated to the college—she returned four months after retiring in 2011 to tackle preserving COM’s 50-year archives.

“I’ve always had a love for history and for the college’s history,” said Henson. “COM has always let you advance in education. It has something for everyone. If you want a two-year degree, if you want to learn a trade, if you want to go and get a bachelor’s degree, we have partnerships. People do not take advantage of all COM has to offer.”