A large family portrait featuring three different generations. A celebration on the level of national recognition. A vintage photograph of an old building with the life it once had. Five men in uniform, ready to fulfill their duties.
These are the images presented to you on the cover of Respectfully Yours: Family Man, Servant, Leader, a new book written by Kenneth A. Christensen–or just Ken, as he prefers. The 83-year-old long-time Huntington resident has detailed his entire life story within the confines of this book. It was a behemoth of a project, taking ten years for him to complete.
“It’s my first and only book,” Christensen said in an interview with HuntingtonNow in his quaint backyard. Having already retired, he had the time to take on this project while thinking about the greater implications of leaving a memento like this.
“What got me going on this was, after I retired I started doing ancestry,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Boy, it would’ve been nice if one of my ancestors had written about their life’.”
And so with that, Christensen set out to provide a testament for his own posterity.
In 48 chapters and 520 pages, Christensen dedicates details and stories to how he embodied the different roles found in the title of the book. Respectfully Yours: Family Man, Servant, Leader isn’t just a nice title that piques interest; it’s a foreshadowing of the myriad testimonies found within the book and a snapshot of its author.
As a leader, he took on many titles. Most notably, however, was his four-year tenure as Huntington Town Councilman from 1990-1993–despite having no prior experience in government. Despite this, Christensen wasn’t afraid to get to work.
“I loved it,” he said. “You gotta remember; I’m not a lawyer, I’m not somebody that’s trying to make a career out of being a politician. I came into it because I was so active.”
Being a town councilman was one of his most favorite experiences. In fact, he spends a chapter on each year he was in office, including a chapter on his initial campaign.
“I was not someone who worried about getting re-elected,” Christensen said as he motioned toward the book for more details. In it, he includes a list of some of his greatest accomplishments over the course of those four years. At the top of the list is the “formation, passage and implementation of the accessory apartment legislation,” something he is passionate about.
This position opened the door for other opportunities in similar leadership/service roles. In 1995, Christensen helped form Leadership Huntington, an annual program that helps people develop leadership skills and exposes them to different spheres of interest so that they can better serve their community.
As one of the founding chairmen, he considers it as his “baby.” He said, “I think it’s made a tremendous impact on the community.”
Additionally, in 1998, he helped form the Huntington Housing Coalition, a committee designed to help create more affordable housing and bring awareness to the issue. In 2011, he won the Chairperson’s Award for Leadership in Human Rights for his work with the coalition.
Even though he loves the parks and recreation of Huntington and has great pride, Christensen admits that it is expensive: “I’d like to see it more affordable.” This echoes all the work he has done to push this agenda and bring light to this issue.
Around the new millennium, with all of this pride for Huntington, he embarked on a campaign to gain national recognition as an All-America City. After multiple attempts, Huntington finally became one of 10 cities to win the award in 2002. On the bottom-left corner of the front cover, Christensen is pictured among a large group that was tasked with making their pitch.
Going back to his love of parks and recreation, this love inspired him to join the Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Review Advisory Committee (EOSPA) in 1998. Even though he wasn’t a founding member, he joined the committee to represent local businesses. As the name suggests, this committee was dedicated to advising the Town Board. Among other things, they helped start green projects, made recommendations on money-spending and helped preserve farmland.
This is not the only type of service Christensen is familiar with, however. When he was younger, he went to the Merchant Marine Academy before spending two years on active duty with the Navy. He’s one of the five uniformed men found in the black-and-white photograph on the cover.
Despite all these accomplishments, Christensen prides himself on being a family man–hence why it is the first phrase on the cover of the book. The family portrait that welcomes the reader shows him with his wife, Nancy, his four children and his nine grandchildren.
In fact, he dedicates a chapter to each child, going into detail about their personalities and who they have become. He said, “The family is the most important for me,” before delving into a brief tangent about his son, Brian, who is a priest in South Dakota. Another one of his sons, Eric, now runs the plumbing business: Christensen’s Plumbing, Heating & Air-Conditioning. The building in that vintage photograph is now revived and the business is still running.
Christensen has been retired for the past 15 years. In that span, he has developed a green thumb. “What I did not expect is that I would develop a big interest in my property and its gardens,” he writes in the chapter about his retirement.
On the ground-level deck in his backyard, one can see plenty of flowers, outdoor furniture and a small, stone waterfall. Neither the house nor the lawn is large, but one can tell that the home is full of stories and the grass is a lush green.
It’s a perfect reflection of Christensen’s life. “I’ve had a great, interesting life and multi-faceted [too],” he said. “Nothing heroic, nothing of world attention but I think I’ll try and do that and leave a legacy to my family.”
Respectfully Yours: Family Man, Servant, Leader isn’t a flashy book with globe-trotting stories or legendary encounters. Instead, it tells the story of a man who has spent many years not only dedicated to Huntington and his local community but also to his country and his family. His words are reinforced by plenty of images and old photographs, including the ones on the front cover.
It’s a deeply personal experience that is full of heart and history. In the words of Christensen himself on the book’s back cover, “The life I have led is not of any public notoriety to acclaim, but it has been very satisfying to me.”