Franklin was local editor of the “Chromascope,” the yearbook. He was secretary of the senior class and a member of the Athletic Association and Athletic Council. He was corresponding secretary of the YMCA and vice president and critic for the Athenaeum Literary Society in 1906. In his senior year he was president of the Athenaeum Society. He was a debater and a contestant in the Preliminary Oratorical Contest and instructor in 1907. In his junior year of college he was a delegate to the state YMCA conference held in Hillsboro.
Granted his bachelor of arts degree with honors in the spring of 1907, Franklin entered Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the fall of 1907 and received his bachelor of divinity degree three years later in May 1910.
On June 7, 1910, Franklin was ordained to the Gospel ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) at Pittsburg, Texas, and became the pastor of the Pittsburg and Green Hill Presbyterian churches.
While he was serving as pastor in Pittsburg, Franklin met Nancy Jud Swayze and the two were married in December 1911.
Mildred Henderson Davey, the youngest child of Lee and Eva Henderson, remembers that Franklin’s visits home, both before and after he was married, were a time of great celebration, not only for the family, but for Bethesda Church. The entire congregation turned out to hear him when he preached in the church that had nurtured him. Not yet born when Franklin went away to college, she does not so much remember what he said as what he was. “He was so handsome. He always looked so clean, and smelled so good!” Even on the hottest summer day—in the time before electricity and air conditioning—”he wore those sparkling white starched shirts and I thought he was the best looking thing in the world.”
Mother remembered what he said, not the exact words or even the texts of his sermons, but that he was “real. He never forgot who he was or where he came from,” she once said. “Even though he became a literary scholar, he came home and talked to us in ways and with words that were our own. When he came home, he belonged!”
Even as he began his climb in the Presbyterian church, Franklin had an unusual ability to integrate his worlds. His greatest personal joy was Nancy and their son, Franklin Smith III, born February 16, 1917. “Little Frank” died at the age of 14 on August 16, 1931, of an infection from a carbuncle on the back of his neck. The parents of this only child were devastated, but Franklin Sr. had his work and regained his ability to be contributory.
A Chance Meeting
Following their marriage, the Hendersons moved to Big Spring where he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. It was there that they counted among their dearest friends Guy and Ethel Porter Brown and their two daughters, pillars of the church he pastored.
I learned about the Henderson-Brown connection quite accidentally when I officiated at the 1992 Dallas International Award banquet honoring Jeannette Brown Early. She was one of the definitive contributors in Dallas, Texas, to humanitarian and peace causes. She and her husband, Allen M. Early, had established a philanthropic foundation before his death. Many of the causes she supported were centered in the Presbyterian church.
Noting this, I asked about her Presbyterian background and casually mentioned that I was Presbyterian-connected through the maternal side of my family and that my great-uncle had figured prominently in my life—though I really never knew him well. Then, I dropped his name and Jeannette almost came out of her chair. My great uncle was her parents’ best friend! They had all worked together in the Big Spring Presbyterian church and had often been in and out of each other’s homes. Jeannette had several snapshots of the Hendersons as a couple, and of her parents with the Hendersons.
Jeannette was born in 1914 while Franklin was pastoring her parents’ church and, along with her older sister, was baptized by him. Years later, when her sister planned to “just go away and get married—it was during the depression and we had no money for weddings—my parents insisted that Franklin Henderson perform the ceremony. They were sure that the marriage would not be official unless he did. Dr. Henderson came from Houston to officiate.”
So close were the two families that Jeannette’s mother Ethel Porter Brown and my great-aunt-in-law Nancy Swayze Henderson shared an apartment at Presbyterian Village in Dallas in the latter years of their lives, after they were both widows.
Jeannette and Allen were married on May 31, 1937, 16 months after Franklin died. “Mother and Dad would have insisted that he perform our marriage ceremony, too, if he’d been living at the time.”
The Hendersons moved on to Coleman in September 1914 at about the time the Browns moved to Waco. Franklin pastored the First Presbyterian Church in Coleman for four years. During this time a new church building was erected and dedicated. When he left Coleman in May 1918, the church was completely free of debt.
He became minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Beaumont in May 1918 and remained there for the next three years.
Family Weddings and Baptisms
It was during this time that he made a trip home to Lindale to perform the home wedding ceremony for my parents, William Clarence Anderson and Jessie Lee Henderson, the grown-up niece who had figured so prominently in his life during his formative years.
The clipping of the “very pretty event” in July 1919 says the presiding minister came from Beaumont to perform the ceremony—and indeed he did. He, Nancy, and “Little Frank” lived in Beaumont from May 1918 through World War I until May 1921. He resigned when the First and Central Presbyterian churches in that southeast Texas city merged to become Westminster Presbyterian. He and Nancy moved to Navasota where he pastored the Navasota First Presbyterian church from 1921 until 1927.
So it was that he went home to Lindale in the early fall of 1922 to baptize me, Vivian Lou Anderson. This ceremony, like that of the baby’s parents, was performed at home, the home of Lee and Eva Henderson, rather than in the Bethesda church, a prevailing custom of that day. I have a snapshot of Mildred holding me on the day of my baptism. Doubtless during this visit home, most likely in September 1922, Franklin filled the Bethesda pulpit.
Franklin Henderson seemed to be always available to conduct special rites for family members. He performed marriage ceremonies for many nieces and nephews, among them that of Raymond and Vivian Henderson on November 10, 1931, and Robert Earl York and Marie Louise Appleton on November 21, 1935.
Both my mother and my grandmother, who was Franklin’s acting mother during his teenage years, spoke of their uncle and surrogate son with admiration akin to awe. In this atmosphere I grew up thinking my great uncle was perfect and equating him in my child’s mind as god.
So it was that when he came from Navasota to visit the family in 1926 when I was four that I was apprehensive. At that time, my grandparents and Mildred, who then was 17, had moved to Athens. If memory serves me correctly, we were living 12 miles away in LaRue. The entire family converged at Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house and “killed the fatted calf” for the homecoming of their most revered relative. My mother was in a state of elation, eager to show her uncle the bonding of the wedding vows that he had read seven years earlier and equally thrilled to present the fruits of that union—me and my two brothers, Norman, almost 3, and Quinton, about 10 months.
She reckoned without my reaction. I was so skittish that when the car drove up to the house and everybody rushed out to greet my uncle, aunt, and little cousin, I hid behind the front door. I remember to this day the fear I had at meeting god face to face. Only when I was dragged out, shivering but determined not to cry, and was drawn within the circle of my uncle’s radiant love that I experienced something of what my mother had known all her life—acceptance, affirmation and approval.
The meal that came afterward epitomized the ritualistic role of food in Henderson homecomings. I do not remember everything, but I can taste still my mother’s fried chicken and homemade rolls, my grandmother’s pot roast with “new” potatoes and her giant chocolate cake. But still I trembled in the aftermath of this awesome visitor. My mother was too busy helping to serve the meal to a massive collection of relatives and caring for three babies to be attuned to the nuances of what was going on with me. It was Mildred who responded to my needs, walking with me along the unpaved sidewalks that abutted North Prairieville Street to a little store two blocks south and spending a few pennies of her hard-earned money to soothe me with candy.
In the meantime my relatives back at the house had pushed themselves away from the table and were engulfed in laughter and reminiscences that always mark reunions. I recall my Aunt Nancy as being beautiful, quiet, and almost aloof. It did not occur to me until many years later, when I became reacquainted with her in her retirement years in Dallas, that she, too, probably felt left out of the magic inner circle.
Career and Honors
In 1927 the Hendersons moved to Houston where he became minister at Central Park Presbyterian Church. During the eight years the Hendersons lived and worked in Houston, they experienced both the heights and the depths of life. They were living there in 1934 when Franklin Jr. died. The following year, Franklin was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Austin College at its 1935 graduation ceremonies. It was conferred by Dr. E. B. Tucker, president of the oldest private college in Texas.
In late 1935 Franklin was named superintendent of home missions of the Brazos Presbytery and resigned his position at Central Park church to assume his new role. He had been elected stated clerk of the Brazos Presbytery in 1932 and held the position until the reorganization of the Presbytery in November 1935. Recognized as outstanding for his roles in stewardship, ministry, and administration, he was promoted to home missions superintendent.
He never got to fill the position.
On a cold day, January 24, 1936, he was driving to his home from his church when he pulled his car curbside and killed the motor, apparently aware that he was very ill. He was found slumped over the steering wheel and rushed to Houston’s Memorial Hospital where he died at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 26, 1936. He is buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston.
For more than a century, from the time it was established in 1879 until 1992, Bethesda had produced only one Presbyterian minister, Franklin Smith Henderson II. He honored it and the Henderson family with his contributions to humanity.
But family members have served as deacons and elders at Bethesda and other Presbyterian churches, including most of the male members of the original family. In more recent years, women descendants have also taken on these roles at their churches. Among them are Janice Buckalew Corley, Eugenia Ann Henderson Stuckey, and Chanda Elaine Castleberry Robertson.
Franklin Smith Henderson II, born near Bethesda Presbyterian Church outside Lindale on December 26, 1883, was the youngest child of Joseph Asmon and Samantha Jane LaGrone Henderson. He was named for his father’s youngest brother, Franklin Smith Henderson, who had died two years before his birth and is the first person buried in Bethesda Cemetery.
Franklin II was not quite two years old when his father died on October 25, 1884. He, too, is buried at Bethesda. Joseph Asmon, only 38 when he died, is the first of several generations of Henderson men to die very young. Even at that young age, he had already come to be known in the family and among intimate friends as “Uncle Joe.”
Franklin II was the sixth of Samantha and Joseph’s children. When he was born, his siblings included Effie Aletta, 10; John Lee, 8; Etta, 7; Jennie, 5; and Archie, 3.
Almost a year to the day following Joseph’s death—in October 1886—Samantha married Julius Simpson Taft. She brought to the union her six children, and Julius added to the family his children from prior marriages. [See Henderson-Taft Family in this chapter for more information.]
Franklin’s brother Archie died in 1888 at the age of 8, and his sister Effie died in 1890 at the age of 16.
In the meantime, Franklin and his brothers and sisters were acquiring half siblings, the children of their mother and Julius Taft. These children were Ruby Anne Taft, born November 17, 1887; Willie Della Taft, born October 14, 1889; Alta Mae Taft, born May 23, 1892; and Julius Roy Taft, born July 16, 1895.
Franklin’s mother Samantha Jane LaGrone Henderson Taft died August 2, 1896. By that time, John Lee, Etta, and Jennie were married, so Franklin II was the only one of the original Henderson clan still living at home. He was 12.
At some stage after his wife’s death, Julius Taft decided to move his large family north to Indian Territory, which would later—on November 16, 1907—become the state of Oklahoma. There are no records of the exact date of the family’s move, but Franklin was old enough and persuasive enough to convince his family that he should remain in Lindale. He had to have been a young boy because his choice was to join the family of his oldest brother John Lee and his bride. Lee (as John Lee was known) and Eva (Lillie Eva) had married November 27, 1895. That would have made Franklin just shy of 12 years old when they married and perhaps 13 when he became a member of his brother’s household.
My mother, Jessie Lee Henderson Anderson, was Lee and Eva’s first born child on September 27, 1896. She remembers Franklin as a part of their family from her earliest memory. She worshipped him. He was her mentor, her model, and her disciplinarian—used in the true sense of the word: to be a disciple unto. She followed him everywhere he would allow and most of the time he tolerated and even encouraged the adulation of this little girl.
Franklin was educated in local schools—the Sabine Community School and Lindale High School. He worked on the farm, swam in the Sabine River with his nieces and nephews and multiple cousins, and taught them to read, write, and “do their figures.” He was a scholarly, introspective youth. His contemporaries, when asked to describe the young Franklin Henderson, use these words: Deep. Bright. Fun-loving. Saintly. Caring. Loving.
He was almost 20 years old when he went away to college. My mother remembered vividly the day Franklin “stopped fighting the Lord” and left home to become a Presbyterian minister. A strong, handsome young man, he was working in the field when he tossed down his hoe and told Lee, his big brother, that he had to go away to school, that repeatedly his prayers to “show me the way,” had been answered by a call to the ministry.
The faith of the Hendersons was such that Lee entertained no doubt of his “kid” brother. As Franklin made plans to leave home, laundering and packing his clothes and preparing himself for the scary steps ahead, his brother began collecting what little money he could. Franklin left home with a hundred dollars and a dream.
He entered Austin College in September 1903, three months before his 20th birthday. He had found his calling. He excelled in school, attained scholastic honors in his senior year, and was very involved in extracurricular activities throughout.
Photo 1: Franklin Smith Henderson II
Photo 2: Franklin Henderson in cap and gown as he graduated from Austin College in 1907.
Photo 3: Dr. Henderson with Ethel Porter Brown, left, and his wife, Nancy Swayze Henderson, in Big Spring, Texas, where he was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.
Photo 4: Franklin Smith Henderson II, his son Franklin Smith Henderson III, and niece Mildred Henderson. Franklin was in Lindale to officiate at his niece Jessie Lee Henderson’s wedding. Mildred, the bride’s sister, did not have a very happy day.
Photo 5: Franklin Smith Henderson III, son of Franklin Smith Henderson II.