Serving God on the Court or in the Field

Aaron Henderson

Serving God on the Court or in the Field

Aaron Henderson
2008 BA in Kinesiology: Physical Education Teaching
2009 MA in Kinesiology: Physical Education
Operations Manager for AgriCare, Inc.

Aaron Henderson blinked away the sweat and pushed his chapped hands into the clay soil of a citrus orchard in Tulare County. It was a scorching hot day in July 2021 – a world away from Aaron’s suit-and-tie days as Fresno Pacific University Director of Athletics.

Four months earlier, he had left that high-level position to take an entry-level job for a full-service farm management company. In the citrus orchard, Aaron squeezed and worked the soil with his fingers to determine if the trees needed more water. “I felt like – no pun intended – that I was back to my roots,” he says. “I’ve loved being outdoors since I was a kid. There is something about being out in God’s creation and consistently awed by what the Lord has done.”

For more than a decade, Aaron oversaw coaches, student-athletes and athletics programs. The work was satisfying, consuming and provided opportunities for leadership that Aaron took into his new career. “The skills I use in farming are technically different from what I used in athletics administration. But there are parallels in dealing with people, a sense of urgency at critical times and needing to be innovative,” he says.

A heritage in farming

Aaron’s great-grandfather, grandfather and many other family members made their living on the land. His interest in agriculture started when he was young, and it grew. But Aaron also had a passion for basketball. So he tried out and made the FPU team before opting to become its student assistant coach. At that time, coaching was his ultimate goal.

At FPU, Aaron also worked as a resident advisor in the dorms and learned about resolving conflict and managing people. He credits former Residence Director Dave Obwald (MA ’11, BA ’01) for guidance and mentoring. Others at FPU invested in him as well. Then-President Richard Kriegbaum, Ph.D., hired Aaron as director of athletics in 2015 after stints as an assistant athletics director at FPU and athletics director at Immanuel Schools.

“Dr. Kriegbaum allowed me to ask a lot of questions, and he helped me understand where my identity was. I learned that I just needed to stay steady, do the right thing and honor the Lord,” Aaron says. One of those right things was finding a work-life balance that allowed enough time with family. Aaron, 37, and his wife, Brittany (Pierce) Henderson (MA ’13, BA ’09)have four children, ages 8, 5, 3 and 1.    

That first step’

Through the years, Aaron kept his childhood passion for working in agriculture. So in March 2021, he took the opportunity to join farm management company AgriCare as an irrigation manager. Less than a year later, Aaron was promoted and is now operations manager with a large responsibility. He oversees how the state’s complex groundwater regulations affect the ranches managed by his company. Complying with those regulations is similar to following rules from the National Collegiate Athletic Administration (NCAA), a responsibility he had as director of athletics. Aaron’s people skills – honed while working with athletes, alumni and donors at FPU – allowed him to quickly establish vital relationships in agriculture.

Some of those relationships are with people who have a history at FPU. For example, he’s sought advice from John Thiesen, a former chair of FPU’s Board of Trustees and a grower of stone fruit in the area. “I may have been new to the industry, but I had quite a bit of relationship carryover from FPU that AgriCare saw as a benefit,” Aaron says.

Looking back to the career he left and the new one he embraced, Aaron says: “I’ve enjoyed each phase of my professional life, and I’ve tried to be faithful in every step I’ve taken. That day in the Tulare County orchard, it was like, ‘The Lord has continued to open doors and bless me in ways unimaginable. So alright, this is that first step.’ ”

Aaron and Brittany (Pierce, MA ’13, BA ’09) with their four children.

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Doug Hoagland

Freelance writer