(Editor’s Note: The following is the third part of a series of articles looking at the lives of WCU faculty and staff before they were educators.)
Long before he was being called “Dr.”, he was known as Bruce, and before he was molding the minds of Catamounts as a Professor of Psychology, Dr. Henderson was dressed in full cowboy garb, blowing out the candles on his birthday cake for his third birthday.
Before calling Cullowhee home, Henderson lived in Mars, Pennsylvania where he attended Mars High School. He graduated high school in 1968 and refereed to the year as “one of the most raucous years in American history.” Mars High was home of the planets; aside from being located in a town called Mars, the mascot represented how the school and students alike were “out of this world”.
As a Freshman, Henderson represented the planets by playing offense and defense on the football team; his football career came to an end when he couldn’t get any bigger than 5′ 10”, 120 lbs, even after eating like a horse. He traded in his helmet and pads for a pair of clubs and played on the golf team for the remaining 3 years of high school. When he wasn’t busy with tee times, Henderson was involved in numerous clubs. He had his favorite clubs like student government, where he served as the president of the student body his senior year, regional honor society where he was able to participate in discussions with professors at Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, and then there was the Chess Club, which Henderson remembered and said, “It was awful!” Like most teenagers, when Henderson wasn’t in school he had various part-time jobs ranging from a paper route, to mowing lawns, to working in a factory, Playtime Industries, that produced football and basketball bleachers. While working at Playtime, Henderson met the owner of the junkyard/farm where Carnegie Mellon students filmed the original cult classic, Night of the Living Dead.
Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, Henderson listened and loved The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and of course anything Motown! A true American teenager, Henderson would watch anything on TV that was related to sports, specifically AFL because of the wide-open style of pro football. If you have ever taken a class with Dr. Henderson, you are well aware of his love of sports especially the Steelers; he is infamous for scheduling the tutoring schedules and test reviews around their kickoff. Unfortunately, while he was still in high school the Steelers weren’t quite the franchise they are today. Henderson said, “The hometown Steelers were awful at the time—their glory days started after I left for college.”
During his teenage years Henderson was a real charmer, but there was one lady he couldn’t touch, actress and singer Connie Stevens, who is best known for her roles in Hawaiian Eye and Maverick. Henderson remembers his Uncle Tom bringing his fiancé to meet the family; Henderson said, “She was a dead ringer for Connie, [she] turned out to be a wonderful aunt—Aunt Chukey.”
Every teenage boy stirs up their fair amount of trouble; Henderson claims to have never done anything to mischievous, or at least never got caught; he did confess that during his senior year of high school he did a lot of skipping school. Luckily, Henderson said, “I had an understanding with the principal”, so it never caused much trouble.
Although Henderson didn’t own his first car until after college, he was allowed to use two vehicles when he got his license in 1966: a 1950 Ford and a 1954 Buick Special that had a black chrome dashboard with more metal in it than any car today has in its entire body. The Buick got six miles to the gallon and needed some exterior work, but according to Henderson the interior of the car was “something to behold.”
Henderson didn’t always plan to be a teacher; he originally wanted to be involved in law enforcement out west. He wanted to fight fires, or play centerfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a kid, he dreamed of playing ball beside Roberto Clemente, his hero. It wasn’t until his junior year at Bucknell University, a small liberal arts college in Lewisburg, that he started to figure out what he wanted to do. Although he had always been successful in school, he didn’t like it and never imagined he would someday teach. Henderson was interested in working with children and conducting research on the developmental stages they go through; after he started working with kids and researching their development did he find out that he actually liked teaching and wanted to make a career of it.
Fatherhood became Henderson’s number one hobby; not just because he enjoyed being a father, but also because he had constant subjects for his research and got to see firsthand the developmental stages of children from birth until adulthood. Now, in his golden age, Henderson has taken up golf again. He said that his lack of interesting hobbies is not because he doesn’t want them but, “are unavailable to me due to utter ineptness. I can’t do anything with my hands, (I couldn’t make a board in shop class), although I like music I can’t sing or play anything (I think I have a learning disability in music), can’t draw, kill any plants I touch except weeds, have no patience for fishing, etc.”