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Anthony McHenry smiles for a portrait at Taylor's, which doubles as a restaurant and teaching lab at OSU.

A little perseverance and determination: Anthony McHenry obtains HTM degrees

Friday, June 21, 2024

Media Contact: Terry Tush | Director, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2703 |

Anthony McHenry is a soft-spoken introvert who enjoys learning new things, putting smiles on people’s faces and spending time with his core group of family and friends. His big smile and infectious laugh are products of a tumultuous journey wrought with sobering challenges and overwhelming triumphs.

Growing up in the Turley area of north Tulsa as the second of four siblings, McHenry learned from an early age to take advantage of the resources available and make the most of what you have.

When he was young, McHenry developed a love of cooking. After learning some simple recipes from his mom, April, he was hooked. It started with mastering the recipes he had been taught and quickly grew to improvising and experimenting with new recipes.

“I loved cooking and baking,” he said. “It started with using the microwave and figuring out what we could do in it, but once we were old enough and big enough, we started using the stove and making new recipes.

“My mom was working a lot at the time and had to tackle the brunt of the household chores, as well. So, once I was able, it was a small way that I could help my mom out, and it was one less thing she had to do.”

As he grew up, McHenry attended Booker T. Washington High School and was the epitome of an active student.

“I did a little bit of everything in high school,” he said. “I was on the swim team, a member of the marching and concert band, and participated in student government. I was in the Chinese club, yoga club and was a member of the stage crew and acted. I was busy to say the least.”

His constant involvement in school led to developing a friendship with Carl Birkhead, who was also highly involved in school and often rode the same late bus after activities had concluded.

“It was so long ago, but I’m pretty sure Anthony and I met on the late after-school bus,” Birkhead said. “Anthony was constantly busy. He was always going 90-miles-a-minute and it was hard to keep up with where and what he was doing.”

His involvement in the numerous activities afforded McHenry the opportunity to tour OSU’s campus many times. So, when it came time to pursue his love of cooking at the next level, his familiarity with OSU, its highly regarded hospitality and tourism management program, and the bonus of Carl attending OSU, made it an easy choice.

Anthony McHenry writing on a notepad
OSU's highly regarded hospitality and tourism management program was one of several factors that drew Anthony McHenry to Stillwater.

McHenry began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in 2009, but his college career didn’t follow a typical path. On top of the financial struggle of college and budgeting, McHenry began to battle with his mental health. Separation from family, a busy schedule that included getting his first job, being a member of two fraternities (Alpha Tau Omega and Kappa Kappa Psi, both of which he is now an alumnus), junior Greek life (Top 50 Freshmen Greeks) and being a member of the OSU Marching Band became overwhelming. Both his mental and physical health began to deteriorate.

“It was tough,” McHenry said. “I’ve never been one to want to burden others with my troubles, so I always internalized them. The constant pressure of growing school costs and battles with self-confidence just seemed too much at times. There were days it was a struggle to get out of bed.

“It was something my best friend Austin [Carl] said to me that really hit home and resonated with me. He told me, ‘I’d rather sit and hear your story than stand over your grave.’ That was a real wake-up call that I needed to get help.”

McHenry began attending counseling, which equipped him with tools that, over time, really started to make a difference in his struggles with mental health. Social media was a tremendous help to McHenry, as well, as it allowed him to share small things and provided an easy outlet.

“I started posting simple things like, ‘Today was not great,’” McHenry said. “Just something so simple prompted the people that I now consider my core support structure to reach out and check in on me. It was really reassuring to know that I had those people in my corner.”

McHenry found solace in his long-time friendship with Birkhead. Whether it was talking through tough days or simply hanging out and playing video games, McHenry leaned on the long-standing bond and connection with his buddy.

“Anthony is one of those guys that would give the shirt off his back without hesitation,” Birkhead said. “In turn, he inspires you to do the same. So anytime he’s needed help with anything, I’m there, without question. He’s my best friend.”

As he was battling his own challenges in Stillwater, McHenry learned that his mom had been diagnosed with cancer and scoliosis and was facing her own battles in Tulsa. McHenry decided to leave OSU and return to Tulsa to help his family.

In order to help with the financial burden of growing hospital bills and school debt, Anthony began working extra to help provide support. One of those jobs included toiling in a rapidly growing pizza establishment named Andolini’s.

McHenry started with the pizzeria in 2014 as a cook and has worked intermittently there ever since. He’s grown in the organization, holding the roles of team lead, kitchen manager and eventually store manager.

“Anthony is an amazing young man,” said Mike Bausch, owner and operator of Andolini’s. “You can tell he’s one of those people who wants to be at work. He’s always been a dependable person and employee and we really appreciate him.”

As McHenry continued to help his family in Tulsa, he began to see progress in the battles he and his mom were facing. So much so that in August 2020, he began investigating a return to OSU to finish his degree and fulfill a promise he had made to his family to complete his education, no matter what.

However, as McHenry had helped his family make it through the worst of his mom’s sickness, the cost of schooling had become an afterthought. McHenry’s dedication to everything he did was about to be returned.

The leadership at Andolini’s had learned about McHenry’s mounting school costs and made a decision that Bausch said was “an easy one.”

“I’ve always been a proponent of the adage that if you put good out into the world, good will come back to you,” Bausch said. “We’ve been in similar situations while we were first starting out in the business and had people gracious enough to help us, so it was just a question of if we can help, we help.”

With his school debt paid by Bausch and Andolini’s, McHenry returned to OSU and finished his bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management in 2022. A 13-year journey full of trials and tribulations ended, and a promise to his family was complete.

“It was a long, tough road,” McHenry said. “But with a little perseverance and determination, I made it through. The day I walked across that stage and received my diploma was one of the happiest days I can remember. I kept my promise to my great-grandmother and grandfather, and while they had passed away, I felt like they were looking down and smiling at the sight of me finally getting my diploma.”

In May, McHenry completed his master’s in Hospitality and Tourism Management with a focus on club and hotel management. He plans to venture into the industry and gain valuable work experience, but isn’t ruling out a return to OSU to complete a doctorate at some point. 

McHenry has been involved with Taylor’s, a restaurant open to campus that doubles as a teaching lab for HTM students, throughout much of his time at OSU. He has served in multiple roles at Taylor’s but has found enjoyment in the teaching and supervisory roles that he’s held most recently.

“I’ve learned that I love to teach people,” McHenry said. “I love seeing people’s faces light up when they finally grasp a difficult concept or experience a breakthrough in solving a problem, so I want to be a professor.”

Whatever the future holds for McHenry, those who know him best are certain that once he sets his mind to it, he’ll see it through.

“I’m truly excited for what’s next for him,” Birkhead said. “He’s a natural-born leader and truly dedicates himself to whatever he does. I have no doubt that whatever he decides to do, he’ll be successful.”

Story by: Jeff Hopper | Engage@Spears magazine
Photos by: Adam Luther

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