Burns, who enrolled at Northwestern after graduation from high school in the little Webster Parish town of Shongaloo, earned a bachelor’s degree in upper elementary education in 1970 and later received a master’s from Pepperdine University in California.
Planning to use his education degrees for a career in teaching, Burns got sidetracked by a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and became an expert and instructor in explosive ordinance disposal for military “bomb squads.”
His academic background in education helped prepare Burns to teach U.S. soldiers, NATO forces, FBI and CIA officers and others classes in military munitions, clandestine devices, Presidential security and special weapons.
After nearly eight years in the Army and two decades in the Army Reserves, Burns retired as a lieutenant colonel and received the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal.
When Burns ended his full-time stint in the Army in the late 1970s, oil fields around his hometown of Shongaloo and other parts of North Louisiana were bustling with activity, and he decided to get in on the oil business boom.
Henry had seen a lot of the country in his military travels, but he wanted to get back close to his roots when it came time to settle down. He had fond memories of his time in the woods, rivers and streams that surrounded his little hometown.
There was also a strong, lifelong bond with his college alma mater in Natchitoches, which was not far away. His mother had graduated from Northwestern and was an elementary teacher. His dad attended LSU and became a Farm Bureau agent after a career of military service.
Henry and his wife Lynette guided all four of their children to Northwestern although Lynette went to Kansas State. Henry said he could accept that, because the school’s colors of purple and white are the same as Northwestern’s. All of Henry and Lynette’s kids and their spouses are NSU alumni.
The Burns family was living the good life when oil wells were pumping and he was an independent petroleum and natural gas operator, but the bottom dropped out of the oil business in the state in the 1980s.
Then Henry, who had kids in college and had also become a thoroughbred owner and breeder when times were good, started looking for a better way to feed his family and his stable of horses.
Burns heard that The Wooden Spoon, a bakery that specialized in gift baskets of cookies and cakes, was for sale. With no skills or knowledge about the baking business except a deep appreciation for his grandmother’s banana nut bread, Henry bought the bakery.
Henry and a couple of employees made bushels of cookies and cakes from scratch every morning, and he personally delivered gift baskets of the baked goods by the thousands over the years to birthday parties, hospitals, holiday events, offices and homes.
He became known as the Cookie Man and made a lot of friends as he delivered gift baskets far and wide for special occasions, captivated folks with his wit and charisma and entertained them with downhome stories about his life and Shongaloo upbringing.
Careful to remind people that he is the Cookie Man with a “C” and not a “K,” Henry acknowledges that he might be viewed once in a while as a little “kooky” because of his flamboyance and gregarious personality.
But it was that unique persona, combined with his military and business experience, strong educational background, compassion for people and the relationships that he built by visiting with so many folks through the years, that helped launch yet another successful career for Henry…this time in politics.
He was elected to the Bossier Parish School Board and served in that position for 15 years. Then Henry expanded his political influence by winning a seat in the Louisiana House in 2007. He was re-elected to the position last year without opposition.
Burns is popular with legislative colleagues and has also been an effective part of major reforms in the state as an ally and floor leader for Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Friends in the House and Senate say that if the legislature had a congeniality award similar to those for beauty contests, Henry would win it. Not the beauty contest, just the congeniality award.
Now Henry is adding a new chapter to his life so to speak. He is calling himself an author, but that might be stretching it a bit. Actually, he wrote just a chapter for a new book entitled, “Meanwhile, Back at Café Du Monde.”
The book that was created and edited by Peggy Sweeney McDonald and produced by Pelican Publishing Company includes 77 chapters by restaurant owners, chefs, elected officials and other notable personalities focusing on a wide variety of Louisiana foods, culture and cuisine.
Burns’ segment of the slick, 200-page publication highlights his Wooden Spoon business and touches on other aspects of the life of the Cookie Man, a title that he treasures.
Included in the chapter by Burns is a recipe for the kind of banana nut bread that he could smell baking in his grandmother’s oven as he grew up in the Red Rock Hills of North Louisiana.
Henry, who has served on Northwestern Alumni Association and NSU Foundation boards, will be signing copies of the book and telling some of his favorite stories at Kings Hardware in Shreveport from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 14 and at Barnes and Noble in Shreveport on Nov. 15 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Northwestern alumni in this area might want to mark those dates on their calendars to get a book signed by the NSU alumnus and feel some of the verve, vibrancy and magnetism that have made Henry Burns such a successful businessman, prominent politician and now a noted “author.”