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Paul Henkels, 84, leader of Blue Bell engineering firm

Paul M. Henkels, 84, chairman of Henkels & McCoy, an engineering and construction firm in Blue Bell, and a leader in Catholic education, died of brain cancer Thursday at his home in Plymouth Meeting.

Paul M. Henkels, 84, chairman of Henkels & McCoy, an engineering and construction firm in Blue Bell, and a leader in Catholic education, died of brain tumor Thursday at his home in Plymouth Meeting.

Mr. Henkels began working at the company while a student at Germantown Academy. His father, John, founded the company in 1923, trimming trees for the Philadelphia Electric Co. The firm evolved into a giant engineering, project-management and construction concern that is able to provide infrastructure for the electric-power, communications, natural-gas and water industries.

During World War II, Mr. Henkels served in the Army Signal Corps in France.

After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering from Haverford College, he returned to Henkels & McCoy in 1947, working on a crew repairing gas leaks. He was promoted to supervisor in 1948 and eventually became an executive vice president. He was named president in 1972, two years before his father died. He had been chairman since 1992.

Mr. Henkels was cofounder and chairman of the REACH Alliance and REACH Foundation, organizations seeking to ensure parental choice in education in Pennsylvania. He worked tirelessly to improve the educational opportunities available to students from all walks of life across the state, said Andrew T. LeFevre, REACH executive director.

Mr. Henkels was "the driving force" behind the enactment of Pennsylvania's Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, LeFevre said.

"Education is our nation's number-one crisis, and school choice is the solution," Mr. Henkels said in a speech in 2007. "School choice is allowing many disadvantaged children all across Pennsylvania to have a chance at getting a good education and, therefore, a better chance at productive and fulfilling lives."

Mr. Henkels was a co-founder of the Regina Academies, Regina Coeli Academy in Wyndmoor,  founded in 2003, and Regina Angelorum Academy in  Ardmore, founded in 2007, which offer a classical liberal arts Catholic curriculum.

He served on numerous boards and chaired the boards of St. Joseph University and the Foundation for Independent Colleges of Pennsylvania.

As a high school student,  Mr. Henkels organized trips to the Philadelphia Orchestra and later became an annual subscriber and contributor. In 2003, he and his wife of 51 years, Barbara Brass Henkels, endowed the orchestra's principal flute chair.

"He was a great believer in the city's institutions," his daughter Angela Dale said, "taking his children to the zoo, the Art Museum and Phillies games. He often said that the city's river drives and Benjamin Franklin Parkway offered the most beautiful entrance to a city anywhere in the world."

Mr. Henkels, who played semipro baseball as a young man, was a lifelong golfer. He conveyed his love of literature, especially Shakespeare, and the fun and beauty of birding and the importance of perseverance and integrity to his children and grandchildren, his daughter said.

In addition to his wife and daughter Angela, Mr. Henkels is survived by sons Paul Jr., Christopher, Andrew, T. Roderick, and Timothy; daughters Amy Healey, Carol Lilley, Barbara Gorman and Marin; a brother; two sisters; and 27 grandchildren.

Friends may call from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church, 437 Ridge Pike, Lafayette Hill. A Funeral Mass will be said Wednesday at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City.

Memorial donations may be made to Ave Maria University, 5050 Ave Maria Blvd., Ave Maria, Fla. 34142, or the REACH Foundation, Box 1283, 20 N. Market Square, Harrisburg, Pa. 17101.