WHO WAS ZACH S. HENDERSON?
Born, January 24, 1902, Gillsville, Georgia
B.S., Piedmont College (Demorest, Ga.), 1922; LL.D., 1948
A.M., Columbia Teachers College, (New York, N.Y.), 1928
Dean, Georgia Normal School (later Georgia Teachers College), 1927-1948
President, Georgia Teachers College (later [December 1959] Georgia Southern College, 1948-1968
Died, Statesboro, January 6, 1985, aged 82
Georgia Southern College Library named for him, October 26, 1985
Zach Suddath Henderson devoted his life to education. Not only his 41 years here at Georgia Southern (21 as Dean, 20 as President), but his earlier involvement in teaching, attest to this fact. Like many other prominent figures in GSU history, his background was rural. He was born (January 24, 1902) and reared in tiny Gillsville, Georgia, one of seven sons of Hollis and Oneida Suddath Henderson. After early education in the local public schools, he attended Piedmont College - a small, struggling, Methodist college in Demorest, whose students sometimes bartered cows to pay for their education. He graduated with honors in 1922 and lettered in three sports - baseball, basketball, and football. After remaining for a year as a science teacher at Piedmont’s Demonstration School, he taught that subject and coached at Plant City High School in Florida. The next year, 1924, found him back in Georgia, as principal and coach at Eastman High School in Dodge County; two years later, he was the public school superintendent there, succeeding Guy Wells, who had left to become Dean here, of what was then called Georgia Normal School. When Wells became President, he soon tapped Henderson as Dean. He began these duties in June 1927; in 1948, he took over as President of the college which had been renamed South Georgia Teachers College and then simply Georgia Teachers College and would become Georgia Southern College during his presidency. The same year, his alma mater, Piedmont College, awarded him an honorary LL.D. As Dean, he had also furthered his education by earning an A.M. at New York’s Columbia Teachers College in 1928 and doing postgraduate work at the University of Chicago (1940-41). His years as President saw enrollment increase over fivefold (from 724 to 4,180), the one degree program offered in 1948 increase to eight, the twelve campus buildings multiply to thirty-two, and in late 1957, the college acquired a graduate program and could grant the M.Ed. in different teaching specialties. The mid-sixties desegregation of the campus was very peaceful, unlike many other Southern colleges, largely because of his quiet, calm leadership. As President of the Georgia Education Association in 1965-66, he led in efforts toward an integrated public school system throughout the state. He had played a prominent role in almost the entire history of Georgia Southern by the time he retired in July 1968.
Despite his imposing six-foot-four height, Dr. Henderson was a soft-spoken, unassuming and genial person. People who knew him for decades had never seen him angry. Very much a family man, he was a dedicated father of three and, later, a doting grandfather. Both he and Mrs. Henderson (the former Marjorie Clark of Eastman, whom he married in July 1927) possessed musical talents, and her ability to play the piano backwards enlivened many an assembly here. Both were deeply and tolerantly religious people who served as lay leaders in church activities and retreats; Henderson was editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate during the early 40's. In retirement, living near the campus, both maintained active contacts with the college and community organizations such as Rotary. After a period of declining health, Dr. Henderson died on January 6, 1985, eighteen days before his 83rd birthday. This library was named in his honor on October 26, 1985. Mrs. Henderson died December 8, 1997, at age 91. They are buried beside each other in Eastside Cemetery.
Information drawn from:
Houston, Rev. Lawrence E., “South Georgia Conference Lay Leader, 1946-1950: Zach Suddath Henderson,” Historical Highlights, vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 1989), p. 7-18
Mandes, Ric, “College President Takes Helm,” Georgia Education Journal, vol. 58, no. 8 (April 1965), p. 10-11
Rotary Club Of Statesboro, A Fifty Year History of the Rotary Club of Statesboro, 1937-1987, (1987), p. 33-34
Shurbutt, T. Ray, Georgia Southern: Seventy-five Years of Progress and Service (1982)
Thomas, Elaine, “The Henderson Years ... An Era of Progress,” Special Supplement to The George-Anne, January 26, 1968.
Who’s Who in America, 39th ed. (1976)