From left, Ian Henderson, along with his father Colin Henderson and Carol Rhoads, lead a candlelight vigil through the streets of downtown Laguna Beach in December 2006. The vigil was for Ellin Henderson, co- founder of the Friendship Shelter. (KYLE BURLINGTON, Coastline Pilot / February 16, 2012)

A national contest is seeking nominations of outstanding senior volunteers.

The Salute to Senior Service program includes a search for the most outstanding senior volunteer in each state and will culminate in the selection of a national winner during Older Americans Month in May.

Laguna Beach is a good place to start.

"We give a Legacy Award every year," said Chris Quilter, president of Laguna Beach Seniors. "What is so thrilling is how many people we want to give it to. This town is rich in volunteers who have been at it for decades."

How about the Rev. Colin Henderson, founder of Friendship Shelter?

Usually "Rev." is an abbreviation of reverend. In Henderson's case, it might well be revered.

Henderson is a soft-spoken man with slightly stooped shoulders, probably from bending down to lend a sympathetic ear to the woes of others. But his gentle demeanor masks a spine of steel and a heart of gold.

A native of England, Henderson came to Laguna in 1985 to serve as assistant pastor to the Rev. Robert Cornelison at St. Mary's Episcopal Church.

Henderson said Cornelison's outstanding contribution to Laguna was the leadership role he took in community issues. Many of those issues were controversial, such as opening the church at night to provide a place for the city's homeless population to sleep and the operation of a day-labor center at the church.

However, Cornelison treated everyone with respect, even those who were most critical of his actions. He was not deterred, Henderson said.

Henderson might well have been describing himself.

He championed the homeless when most folks simply considered them layabouts.

"I was involved with Colin before we had Friendship Shelter," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger. "He is the person most responsible for improving the lives of people who find themselves homeless in Laguna."

Rollinger also finds Henderson's self-deprecating sense of humor endearing.

In the early days of Friendship Shelter, when Henderson was director — otherwise known as chief cook and bottle washer — he was speaking at a Dinners Across Laguna fundraiser attended by Rollinger.

"He was asked how the shelter differed from others," Rollinger recalled.

"'Well,' he replied, 'It is the only shelter I know of with an ocean view and an English butler.' So Colin."

Transitional housing is provided for 25 shelter graduates at Henderson House, named in his honor.

Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. presented Henderson in 2008 with the Legacy Award, along with Louise Buckley and Pauline Walpin, both worthy of consideration at outstanding volunteers.

Buckley will be honored March 3 as the Patriot of the Year in the annual Patriots Day Parade.