The news came to me while sitting in a meeting at the Black Archives Tuesday afternoon.
Hamilton Henderson died, someone said, and a collective groan and sigh went up from the room.
Someone else said it was a rumor. Although a cruel one, I hoped it was only a rumor.
Later that evening I received a call at home verifying it was true, Hamilton Henderson had died. A Meierhoffer Funeral home official clarified it Wednesday morning. Yes, family were making arrangements as we spoke.
After we spoke, the memories flooded in of a man who meant so much to so many and was loved by many.
When Hamilton Henderson or “Ham” as he was often called, walked into a room, everyone smiled. He got that recognition from a lifetime of caring for youth.
Ham was one of the first Black teachers in the St. Joseph School District. When I attended Central High School in the 1970s, he taught Black history.
On Friday nights in his small house on Warsaw Street, high school kids, Black and white, male and female, gathered at his house for pizza, games and music.
Many times we ordered delivery from Dante’s, a popular restaurant bar on Frederick Avenue. It was his way of knowing we were safe. We loved being in his calming, fun-loving presence.
Ham not only taught by book and history, he taught by example. His calm, gentle voice was reassuring. His nature was to respect and care for other people. Youth was his passion.
Many times in later years, former students and other youth down on their luck or homeless found refuge in his humble, greenery-covered Midtown home. It was a safe haven for youth in the area as well.
Ham’s house sits across the street from Islamic spiritual leader Ramadhan Washington. I call it the “Amen Corner.” Spirituality and caring flowed across that juncture. Now one cornerstone is gone.
Ham was a man of many talents. I did not know until recently that he taught dance and was well respected for it. Former students sing his praises to this day.
I was glad that we, the Black Archives committee, decided to honor Ham and put his portrait on the Wall of Fame two years ago. It was long overdue and well deserved. He served on our board for a time until his health began to fail.
His memory, influence, wisdom and colorful stories still linger and will continue to hang around as long as we remember him and his big heart.
We, as a community, lost a pillar and a great one.