Save a college


We pass through the historic Captain Henderson House, a structure that has fascinated me since my childhood in Arkadelphia. I’m with Shane Broadway, vice president of academic relations for the Arkansas State University System. Our visit is led by Rita Fleming, Vice President of Finance and Administration at Henderson, which is now part of the ASU system.

Henderson’s financial problems have been well documented in recent years. Its enrollment has dropped this semester from what it was in fall 2020. To a foreigner, it seems like a university on the brink.

In October 2019, Henderson’s board of directors, realizing how dire the situation was, voted unanimously to merge with ASU. The system, whose president was once Henderson’s president, agreed that the school could retain its name, the use of the Reddie mascot and the slogan “School with a Heart.”

Elaine Kneebone, who was Acting President at the time, said: “The desire to keep our name and our unique heritage has been loud and clear in recent weeks in forums, in person and on social media. traditions matter. We are Henderson. We are Reddies. “

ASU President Chuck Welch learned a lot about these traditions during his years at Henderson. This is an institution that dates back to 1890 when it began as a Methodist school.

“We know that joining the system has not been an easy decision and we are committed to doing everything possible to honor Henderson’s rich tradition and mission of service to students,” he said. That day. “I am confident that membership in the ASU system will strengthen Henderson, our institutions and all of higher education in Arkansas.”

Almost two years later, the massive reconstruction effort is only gaining momentum.

On February 1, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Act 18, officially making Henderson the seventh institution in the ASU system. The law expanded the Board of Directors of the ASU system from five to seven members. Working with Henderson since 2019, the ASU system had already provided significant efficiencies, financial savings, and service by the time the invoice was signed.

“The additions of information technology and strategic research expertise at the system level bring even more benefits,” Welch said on the day the bill was signed.

Fleming played a key role in the turnaround attempt. When she was hired at Henderson in late 2019, she was the Financial Director of the Agriculture Division of the System at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She received a law degree from the University of Arkansas at the Bowen School of Law in Little Rock and is also a Chartered Accountant. She went to work for the UA System in 2010 as Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration at Helena’s Phillips Community College.

From 2004 to 2010, Fleming was Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Risk Management at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway. In 2011, she became Associate Vice President of Finance for the UA System office in Little Rock. She joined the Agriculture Division in 2017. The division has an annual budget of over $ 135 million.

She knows the tricks of the trade. As Henderson seeks a permanent chancellor, the fact that Fleming keeps an eye on finances has proven invaluable.

Meanwhile, Welch and Broadway, who work at the ASU System office across from the State Capitol in Little Rock, have devoted much of their time to the Henderson Resurrection Project.

Despite the success of ASU’s main campus in Jonesboro, the biggest legacy for Welch and Broadway might be to save an institution so important to the southern half of our state. We are at Captain Henderson House because it symbolizes the school’s deep roots.

Charles Christopher Henderson, whose school is named after, began a complete renovation of a small cottage in 1903. Henderson was a banking, lumber and railroad magnate.

“Over the next three years, Henderson added a wrap-around porch with a railing to the front of the house,” writes HSU historian David Sesser. “The porch is built around a two-story turret and has a six-column portico. The interior of the house is richly decorated with fretwork. Two living rooms are on the first floor, each with large fireplaces. Common rooms are on the first floor, as well as a very detailed staircase leading to the second floor. The staircase opens on the second floor to a square hallway which leads to many small rooms. “

Henderson was appointed to the board of trustees of what was then Arkadelphia Methodist College in December 1891. His wife had been active in the movement to establish the college and had attended classes there.

“Henderson served on the board for over a decade before he began making large donations,” Sesser writes. “The college was chronically underfunded and operated for almost 14 years under a lease with the first president, George Jones. The board of trustees made several attempts to buy out Jones’s lease, but failed. couldn’t do it until Henderson found a solution.

“In 1901 Henderson donated $ 11,000 to repay existing debts and, over the next three years, led the council’s efforts to gain full control. This was completed in 1904 when Jones left the college.In honor of Henderson’s efforts, the college was renamed Henderson College.Henderson also became chairman of the board in 1903, holding that office until 1922.

In 1905 Henderson donated $ 5,250 to settle a claim against the college. Four years later, he donated $ 10,000 to pay off additional debt. When a fire destroyed the main campus building in 1914, Henderson donated $ 5,000 towards the reconstruction effort. When Methodist officials voted to close Henderson, the campus was donated to the state in 1929 and became Henderson State Teachers College.

So, the man known as Captain Henderson saved this institution in its infancy. The state saved him again in 1929. And now people like Welch, Broadway, and Fleming are saving him once again.

Welch is a Jonesboro native who was a first generation college student and the first member of either side of his extended family to receive a graduate degree. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Arkansas, where he served as student body president. Welch went on to earn a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University and a doctorate in education from UALR.

It didn’t take long for Welch to become one of the state’s rising stars in higher education. He worked at UALR, was dean of university studies at Pulaski Technical College and chancellor at the University of Arkansas Community College in Hope, then accepted the post of Henderson, becoming one of the country’s youngest presidents in a four-year university. He was appointed chairman of the ASU system in November 2010.

Broadway was also very successful at a young age. He was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1996 at age 24. In 2001, he became the youngest House Speaker ever to be elected in Arkansas. He was elected to the State Senate in 2002.

Broadway stepped down as director of the state’s higher education department in December 2014 to join the ASU system. I worked closely with him when he was director of higher education as I led the association of 11 private four-year colleges and universities in the state during those years. I learned of Broadway’s constant interest in everything that happened along the corridor of Interstate 30 between its hometown of Saline and Texarkana.

Broadway knows how important Henderson is to the future economic and community development of this part of the state. In the most recent census, most of the counties south of Little Rock lost population.

Institutions like Henderson have never been more important to the southern half of Arkansas. Firefighters – people with names like Welch, Broadway, and Fleming – luckily arrived in Arkadelphia to extinguish the blaze.

Rex Nelson is editor-in-chief at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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