Mr. Newton Jesse Henderson and Miss Mabel Mae Bell, both graduates of Lincoln University (Jefferson City, MO), joined in Holy Matrimony and began life together in Slater, Missouri. Shortly after moving to Bloomington, Illinois, they experienced the birth of their first child. They welcomed to this life a beautiful baby boy named John Wesley Henderson, who thereafter was affectionately called “Jay”.
John was baptized and grew up in Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church (Bloomington, IL). He accepted Christ as his Savior at a young age and lived out every measure of his faith in Jesus Christ in trust, obedience and love. He participated in the Choir and Sunday School. His first job was getting up early in the morning and shoveling coal to heat the church.
John attended Franklin Elementary School, Washington Junior High School and graduated from Bloomington High School in 1945. During that time period, he was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America; where he earned every badge available but fell short of earning the merit of Eagle Scout due to his being so skinny which inhibited his ability to float. He furthered his association with B.S.A. by serving as a scout leader. During his formative years, John participated in Choir [singing tenor], Drama performances and in Band; where he played pretty much all of the woodwind, horn and percussion instruments. As a young child, John took piano lessons, and although he really liked it, he was not too keen on the practicing aspect of it. That said, even within recent years, he could sit at a piano impromptu and raise a concerto from memory. Likewise, he could hear a wrong note played and tell someone what cord and which finger missed keyed from across the room.
As an ambitious high school senior, John passed the test and entered the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program. After graduating high school in May of 1945, he reported to the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL) that summer. He completed two terms by December of 1945, and then went into active military service, and subsequently was honorably discharged in March of 1950. Following his stint in the service, John went to Illinois State University and graduated with both a bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Instructional Education in Industrial Arts with a minor in Music. Although he tested and received his teaching certification from the Public Schools of Chicago (IL), John opted for and accepted a teaching position in Kansas City, Kansas’ Unified School District 500 at the historic Sumner High School in 1952. Under the administration of Principal S. H. Thompson, Sr., John took root in Room 111 where he taught courses such as electronics, woodwork and engineering drafting, for a total of forty-three years. Through his career, he was an educator through and through. He was a class sponsor, helped designed elaborate themed scenes for senior proms, stage director for programs and plays, worked the lights and curtains, managed the PA equipment, provided stage designs, announcer and score keeper for basketball, football, volleyball, and track and field, and served as sponsor for the National Honor Society programs. John and his teaching cohort Mr. Leon Brady took half time entertainment to new heights for Sumner High with elaborate productions and band presentations. In addition, at Sumner, John was known as the “Keeper of the Keys”. He had keys to everything, and regularly could be seen walking down the hall swinging his collection of keys. John was known to be a “tough” teacher but tremendously respected. Moreover, he was always willing to spend extra time with any student that showed interest or when a parent asked him to help get their child on track.
As part of his early stay in Kansas City, John met the love of his life. A lovely belle by the name of Imelda Octavia Henderson from Huntington (WV). John and Imelda were married on June 16, 1956, and welcomed the arrival of their first child, a son named Michael Newton Henderson on August 9, 1959.
Likewise, on July 16, 1963, they welcomed the arrival of their daughter, Danita Marie Henderson. John cherished and continually strove to be a great Dad, not just to his children but also as a father figure to many neighborhood children and students. He was a private man. He influenced his children tremendously with dedication, discipline and high academic expectations. He expected nothing less from them than their absolute best and worked to give them the best he had to offer. His children were his pride and joy. He took them everywhere. John was a living example of brilliance, and affirmation that you can do anything, be anything, and overcome anything with dedication, patience, kindness, fortitude, and the Lord on your side.
John relished the role of Father-in-Love with the marriage of his son, Michael to Rosalind Kay Shorter on August 1, 1987, and with the marriage of his daughter, Danita to Kevin Harold Robinson on October 16, 1993. Moreover, he engulfed himself in the role of Grandpa through the birth of his grandsons, Michael Alexander Henderson and Jordan Wesley Henderson.
John joined First A.M.E. (FAME) Church in 1952; and was put to work right away, being elected to the Trustee Board. Music being his talent and passion, he joined the Senior Choir, Gospel Choir, and Men’s Chorus. He served as Choir Director for a number of years and assisted with concerts. As part of his God given gift, he also constructed, wired, repaired, and patched FAME’s edifice from top to bottom over the years and was given the title of Building Engineer. He’s been involved in music ministry, bus ministry, lay activities, helped the missionaries with projects, special celebrations, did souvenir journals, printed bulletins, and escorted YPDers to conventions and youth activities. He saw to it that his children were involved in church and made himself available for anything in which his children took part. He was named Trustee Emeritus in 2007, and the church Fellowship Hall bears his name.
John epitomizes the phrase, “Jack of all trades”. He was a certified licensed Master Electrician and did work under the employ of Walker Electric and Ambiac Electric. He was known as “Doc” among his electrician friends. Through the years, like many other teachers, John took on additional work. He worked at the Kansas City Country Club on the weekends. He also did odd jobs fixing things for other people. Ironically, he gave away more in parts and labor than he received in return compensation. But that was John, he did so much for a lot of people and never expected anything in return. Whether you asked him, or he was aware that you needed help, he would be there to help.
John, or better yet “Jay”, was an inventor, an educator, a trail blazer, a giver, a gentle man, and one of the most humble and kind spirits anyone could encounter. He impacted so many lives. Jay loved, cherished and honored his wife of 46 years, in sickness and in health, who preceded him in death on September 2, 2002. John leaves to cherish his memory, his son, Michael N. Henderson; daughter, Danita M. H. Robinson; sister, Jesse Mae Horne; sister-in-love, Dr. Betty J. Cleckley; daughter-in-love, Reverend Rosalind K. Shorter Henderson; son-in-love, Kevin H. Robinson; grandsons, Michael A. Henderson and Jordan W. Henderson; nephews, Thomas D. Horne, and Arthur L. Stringfield; nieces, Deborah M. Stringfield, Deborah Y. Horne and Yvonne Brooks; great nephews and great nieces, Arthur L. Stringfield, Jr., Ashley M. Dixon, Jessica Y. Horne, LaQuisha Bahwah, David Bahwah and Anthony Dixon; close family friends, Marie Hamilton, Leon Brady, Reginald McCord-Bey, Delbert Ayers, and a community of family and friends.