At 15, Donna Henry had just been named the Pioneer Days queen, and for the first time in her life, she was one of the popular kids in school.
She was an honor student, and she hoped one day to be a physical therapist.
And then she got pregnant. Her whole life changed overnight.
Unfortunately, such stories are common in Cass County, which has a teen birth rate that is out of control.
Experts say the national rate, which is 34 births for every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19, is higher than many Third World countries. The state rate is even higher at just above 37 births per 1,000 girls.
The county rate, though, blows those rates out of the water. The number of births per 1,000 teenage girls in Cass County now stands at 53.
The teenage pregnancy task force of an organization called Better Health for Cass County is hoping to cut that number dramatically. One way to start might be to have Henry share her story at schools throughout the county.
She shared it last week at a session that drew about 20 teenagers and adults to the Area Five children’s center.
Henry grew up in Royal Center in the 1960s and ’70s. Her parents never talked about sex, she said. They couldn’t even say the word out loud.
To her surprise, though, Henry’s parents, when she finally got up the nerve to talk to them about her dilemma, were supportive.
“My dad actually said, out loud, ‘Do you want to get an abortion?’” Henry recalled.
Henry said no. She planned to keep the baby.
Her dad asked if she and the child’s father planned to get married.
“Well, that was a given,” Henry recalled. “In 1975, that was a given.”
Pregnant girls in 1975 were not allowed to attend school. Henry had to take classes from home.