Sheila Henry is living Black history in her trailblazing role in Clark County

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Feb. 4—Sheila Henry, formerly Sheila Rice, made history in November when she overwhelmingly won the race to be the Clark County Municipal Court clerk.

The election made Henry — who married Alan Henry at her swearing in ceremony in December — the first Black elected county official in Clark County's history. She was initially appointed to the role in October 2021 for a two-year period when former clerk Guy Ferguson died.

Henry said she feels humbled to make history, seeing all the influential Black people before her who ran for county office, referencing former Springfield Mayor Robert Burton, former police chief Roger Evans and Priscilla Smithers, who worked for years in local government.

"You've had so many African Americans who tried to get in county office throughout the years ... way more qualified than me on every level," Henry said." You look at all those people that went ahead, and then God just chose to pick to pick me. It's very humbling."

Henry is involved in and has a deep love for Springfield and the county.

"She overcame the glass ceiling ... and she's worked through that," former Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said.

Clerk of the Municipal Court

Henry threw her hat into the ring to be appointed clerk when Ferguson died, having had experience in both the municipal and common pleas courts. She was owner and deputy registrar of the Ohio License Bureau South for 20 years, and she also served as deputy clerk of the Clark County Common Pleas Court.

Detrick said he and Dave Hobson, former U.S. representative, helped Henry campaign because they both "felt that she was very talented and had a terrific work ethic." He said the way she ran the license bureau on Selma Road for years was a testament to her skillset, and he and Hobson were unfazed by her being in the Democratic party and them the Republican.

"We both work for individuals," Detrick said.

Hobson said Henry is an experienced and well-liked businesswoman, and people went out of their way to visit her license bureau, even if the other one was closer. Henry's son now runs the Selma Road location.

"If someone's a Republican and they're not doing a good job, I'm not going to vote for them," Hobson said. "And conversely, if they're good at their job, then I will support them."

Hobson said he was inspired by Henry's dedication and hard work to help her continue her role as clerk.

"I went to her; she did not come to me," Hobson said, asking her if he could be helpful to her. "And she said, 'Oh, yeah that would be helpful,'" Hobson said.

Henry was determined to win and continue helping people who visit municipal court, and her hard work is what got her there, Detrick said.

"Sheila would have won without our advice," Detrick said.

Henry won her seat in November with an overwhelming majority of 66% of the vote.

Her first court experience was as a file clerk at the common pleas court, she said, filing miles of papers.

"Every time they brought a stack of papers, I would just get them filed up," she said.

"And I remember Ron Vincent at that time was the clerk of courts, and he said, 'I can't keep you over here; you just keep this desk too clean,'" Henry said. "So he moved me to the counter ... that's where I really got the love of the clerk's office because at that time I was learning so much about the system, and it was fascinating."

Henry said since then she has enjoyed helping anyone she can who comes through the court system.

Since she began serving as clerk, Henry said the court began allowing people to pay tickets by phone, taking personal checks, streamlining the management program and making the expungement and records sealing process simpler.

"We're just very customer service oriented," Henry said.

From teen mom to business owner to county office

Henry's parents moved to Springfield from West Virginia. Her mother was a domestic worker and her father a bricklayer.

"She was a domestic worker out here in Ridgewood where I live at; I wish she could have lived to see it because I remember as a child just waiting on the corner of Selma Road and Linden for the buses for when our mothers would get off the bus coming from out here where they cleaned," Henry said.

She said she and her siblings got their work ethic from their father, who owned his own construction company in the late 1950s.

"If you don't have a degree, what can get you way far is a work ethic," Henry said.

Henry was a teen mother, having her first child a month after her 18th birthday. She said she didn't go to college, instead focusing on being a parent at the time. She now has four children.

She was married at 22 and focused keenly on work, becoming involved on several boards for different organizations throughout her life, including Ferncliff Cemetery and the Springfield Foundation.

"You name a board (and) I know I've sat on it," Henry said.

Henry pointed to OIC's aid when she was young, connecting her to different jobs that got her to where she is today.

"Life's been good to me; life owes me nothing," Henry said.

Henry recently sold the event center "The L," which she owned with her daughter, who she said is her business partner. She also works as a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Heritage.

On Dec. 20, when Henry was sworn into office to serve this term, Judge Stephen Schumaker also gave her and Alan Henry their vows.

Henry said she and her husband dated for about six years before marrying, and she decided to take his last name to honor him.

Alan Henry owns Robert C. Henry Funeral Home on South Center Street. His father, Robert C. Henry, served as Springfield mayor from 1966-1968, and he was the first Black mayor of any U.S. city with a population over 70,000.

Henry said she knows she will get involved in the funeral home business at some point, and her daughter attended mortuary school for two years to prepare for the possibility. Henry had considered buying the funeral home before she and Alan married.

The clerk said she enjoys staying busy and is always on the lookout for new opportunities.

"We're just looking for the next thing we're going to do," Henry said.