In Memoriam: Virginia H. Hennes

In Memoriam: Virgina H Hennes

“[Ginny] was a quiet, passionate force of nature… Always authentic. Always insistent. Always Montessori.”
- Betsy Lockhart, student at MECR

On April 12, 2024, the world lost a remarkable woman, Virginia “Ginny” Mae Hill Hennes, who passed away peacefully at the age of 91 in Seattle, Washington. Her life, spanning nearly a century, was marked by a deep commitment to Montessori education and her community. As a cherished mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend, Virginia’s legacy is one of love, dedication, and profound impact on those who had the privilege of knowing her.

Early Life

Virginia was born on February 25, 1933 in Wapato, Washington, to James “Jim” McCoy Hill and Mildred Courville Hill. A proud member of the Muckleshoot Tribe, she spent her early years in various towns across Washington State, experiencing the diverse landscapes on both sides of the Cascades.

After graduating from Coulee Dam High School in 1951, Virginia became the first in her family to attend college at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was here that she met Jim Hennes, her life-long love. Virginia graduated in 1955 with a major in journalism and the couple married that same summer.

After spending the early years of their marriage traveling around the country as a Navy couple, they landed back in Seattle, where they welcomed their first two children to the world. When Jim left the Navy, the family once again set out on a journey across the country, living in Boston, Massachusetts; Champaign, Illinois; Columbia, Missouri; and Boulder, Colorado.

Her Montessori Experiences and Influences

It was in Champaign that Virginia first encountered Montessori. As an assistant at her son’s school, Virginia was inspired by the Montessori approach and soon became an American Montessori Society (AMS) credentialed teacher.

Virginia’s passion for Montessori led her and her husband to help found the Columbia Montessori School in 1967.

Their commitment to Montessori education continued in Boulder, where they established the Boulder Montessori School in 1974.

Then, in 1978, Virginia and Jim furthered their dedication to Montessori education by collaborating with Janet Gollen and Nancy Rose to create the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies (MECR), originally known as the Rocky Mountain Teacher Training Program. This program was designed to train Montessori instructors, and Virginia played a crucial role as an instructor and consultant.

Virginia continued her work in the field of Montessori far beyond the walls of MECR. In 1975, she organized the seminal AMS Regional Seminar in Granby, Colorado. She also chaired the AMS Review Committee from 1994 to 1996 and served as an AMS representative on the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE) Commission.

Virginia’s contributions were instrumental in assisting several Native American tribes in establishing Montessori programs within their schools, extending her influence and the benefits of Montessori education to even more communities.

Her Later Life

Virginia retired from classroom teaching in 1995, after her husband’s passing, but she did nto slow down. She set out to accomplish a life-long dream of traveling the world, visiting every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Her travels were not only personal adventures, but also opportunities to share her knowledge and passion for Montessori education globally.

In 2013, Virginia returned to Seattle to be close to her family. Her final years were filled with the joy of being near her loved ones and continuing her lifelong commitment to education. She remained a vibrant part of the Montessori community, as her friends and former students continued to seek her guidance and wisdom.

Her Legacy

Virginia’s colleagues and friends remember her as a steadfast and calming presence in the Montessori community. “Ginny was an authentic Montessori presence in the lives of the many children and adults that she befriended and mentored. With calm persistence, wisdom, and integrity, she developed the programs that are her enduring legacy,” remarked Dot Thompson, a close colleague. Her influence reached far and wide, shaping the lives of countless educators and students.

Reflecting on Virginia’s profound impact, Susie Shelton-Dodge noted, “Ginny was one of the kindest and gentlest Montessori educators. She was a deep thinker and quietly did the ‘work’. I once asked Ginny, Beth, and Peggy how long they served on the AMS Review Committee, and they told me over 20 years! I believe they were responsible for so much of the foundational work of AMS. For sure we will all miss her.”

Jennifer West, who entered Virginia’s Early Childhood classroom at the age of 3 and later became an instructor in the Infant-Toddler course at MECR, working alongside her, recalls cherished memories: I was lucky to know Ginny and to have my life touched by her grace.

My earliest memories of women in my life were my mother, my grandmother and then Ginny. As my preschool teacher at Boulder Montessori School, I can still see her demonstrating how to tie and buckle my shoes and still know what it felt like to sit on her lap when she sang "Little Tommy, Little Mouse" (I never wanted my turn to end.)

She was a constant calm and supportive presence when my mother later worked at BMS and as I started to help out then work there myself. In college, Ginny hired me at MECR, helping me to get a scholarship to get my Montessori certification and then encouraging me to become an instructor myself, when I didn't think I could do it (I did it!).

I traveled across the country with Ginny when she was on the AMS training program accreditation team and when MECR conducted the 3-6 training program in Ignacio, CO. In all the time spent with her, she was tirelessly kind and truly dedicated to the great work of helping children AND adults to reach their highest potential through the Montessori principles.

I am forever grateful for the guidance and opportunities Ginny gave me. She shaped the path of my life as I am sure she did for many. She has been and will forever be in my heart.

Graduate of MECR, Sheila Wolfe, shares, “Ginny was an inspiration to me. I can still see the kindness in her eyes. I am honored to have her signature on my Montessori certifications as the Director at MECR. Ginny was a role model to me and so many others as to how to live your life as a genuine Montessori teacher and educator.”

Dee Coulter, reflecting on Virginia’s unique contributions wrote:

When folks contribute to an initiative like Montessori education, they usually help hold the form or they push the envelope and add innovative ideas. Our Ginny did both so well. She was so true to the traditions, and at the same time, she brought her cultural heritage to bear in bringing Montessori to reservations. I remember her saying how deeply one group of those amazing children would walk the line. It came so naturally to move quietly with grace and focus around the circle. It almost became a spiritual moment. She described it so vividly I still feel I can see their stillness. She lived a truly meaningful life.

Virginia’s life was a testament to the power of education and the impact one person can have on a community. As we remember Virginia “Ginny” Mae Hill Hennes, we celebrate her innumerable contributions to Montessori education. Virginia’s legacy lives on in the lives she touched and the many students who benefitted from her dedication to the Montessori method.

In honor of Virginia’s lifelong dedication to education, donations can be made to the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies, continuing her mission of furthering Montessori education.

About the Author

Heather White

Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori coach and consultant, content creator, and educator for adult learners, as well as a moderator and manager for the Montessori at Home (0 – 3 years) Facebook group. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, in-home caregiver, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a school psychologist intern. She is AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Contact her at

The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.

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