An aviation pioneer and former chief test pilot for Fairchild Aircraft, Henson normally flies his own plane to Hagerstown for monthly meetings of the Hagerstown Aviation Heritage Museum board of directors.
Starting with a shuttle service from Hagerstown to Washington, D.C., in 1962, Henson built a commuter airline, Henson Aviation Inc., that eventually served 42 cities. He sold the airline to Piedmont Aviation for an undisclosed amount in 1983.
Being a member of the Hi-Y Club at the Hagerstown YMCA building on North Potomac Street was a good influence on him during his teen years, he said in an interview after the press conference.
Henson said he previously has made large donations to two YMCAs on the Eastern Shore and thought it would be nice to help the Hagerstown YMCA in its effort.
He said he hopes the community will hold up its end as it did in Salisbury, where $1.1 million was raised to match his "challenge" grant of $1 million to revitalize a failing YMCA there.
Henson said he is impressed with the changes in Hagerstown since he left nearly 20 years ago.
"It's a very, very attractive community," he said.
Henson's pledge, coupled with a $1 million pledge from the YMCA's board of directors and board of trustees, is a good start toward creating "a place you can come as a family to enjoy recreational and learning opportunities," Pierne said.
"It was a big help, no doubt about it," he said in an interview.
It took years of hard work to get to this point, said former YMCA board President David Beachley, co-chairman of the capital campaign.
"This has been a dream of mine for 15 years so this is a real proud moment for all of us today," said Beachley, who called Henson "one of the finest individuals I've ever met."
The YMCA will launch its corporate and individual campaign in May with the goal of raising $5 million by the end of the year, Pierne said.
Earlier this year, YMCA officials announced their intention to move most of the athletic and community-service programs from the 149 N. Potomac St. building to a new location.
Thanks to Henson's promise of support a few months ago, YMCA officials were able to put a contract on 33 acres on Eastern Boulevard across the street from the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, Pierne said.
The $600,000 contract with GEMCO, a local development group, includes an option to buy an adjacent 15 acres for $400,000, he said when he announced the land deal last week.
Plans for the new center include a 57,000-square-foot building with two pools, two gymnasiums, a fitness center, a child-care center, teen and senior facilities, meeting rooms and administrative offices.