J. Edwin Hendricks

Memorial by Karin Zipf

Read at the October 9, 2015 HSNC meeting.

Dr. J. Edwin Hendricks was born in 1935 and passed away peacefully on March 27, 2015.  He died while we were meeting in the Capitol rotunda last spring.  This little memorial recognizes his tenure, since 1961, at Wake Forest University.  It acknowledges his chairmanship of the history department from 1995-1999. It shows appreciation for his two terms as president of the Historical Society of North Carolina.  It also applauds his very long commitment to historic preservation across the state, and nationally, as well.  But the main point of my memorial, here, is to talk about Ed Hendricks and his influence on me as his student. Dr. Edwin Hendricks taught me that history comes alive. He was my advisor at Wake Forest University. He showed me the power of history by teaching me an appreciation not only for museums, artifacts, and books, but also for the stuff of life, such as gardens, music, and graveyards.

Dr. Hendricks got me my first job as a historian….a museum guide at Bethabara Park in Winston-Salem.  It payed $3.68 an hour, and I was really excited to have it.  It was a summer job, and I took it to see if I liked the work. As a tour guide, I worked at the site of the original Moravian settlement in Winston-Salem.  I thought it was so cool, because it was way older than the more spectacular Old Salem located downtown.  It was older, and located on the true North Carolina frontier, the settlers who established it were more adventuresome, more gutsy.  And I understood why Dr. Hendricks liked it so much. As a tour guide, I worked as the young single sister non-Moravian with several retired Moravian widowed and married sisters. Let’s just say they were very exacting about my behavior and work.  I sewed my own costumes, read plenty of primary documents, gave tours in the old meeting house to old people, and directed garden, field and graveyard tours for local school kids.

Meanwhile, I enrolled in Dr. Hendricks hands-on historic preservation course….conducted at Bethabara.  Our mission, to reconstruct the Moravian summerhouse that archaeologists had discovered once stood in the garden next to the imposing old fort.  It was a very physical and painful task. I and nine other male students converted tree logs into timbers, and then constructed the summer house with wood pegs, just like in the past. We got stung by bees, acquired poison Ivey rashes, and I probably inaugurated damage to my back that has haunted me ever since.  But it was an amazing experience to learn about history by re-experiencing the past, even if the day ended in an easy trip to Samplers or the Grotto after class. Dr. Hendricks son, Chris Hendricks, managed and supervised the whole project.  Then, Chris was a PhD student at William and Mary.  Now he is a professor of history at Armstrong State in Savannah, Georgia. He and his dad energized each other, and that energy transmuted to us in the form of excitement and fun. We axed, adzed, and hewed those timbers for a better part of two months. What we all did in one summer, Dr. Hendricks reminded us, two stout and strong settlers would have accomplished in 2 weeks. I did the work in my Moravian costume, which the guys thought was hilariously funny.  But because they were all history majors, too, their teasing was imbued with a certain respect and wonder about how, in all those skirts, I got so much work done.

That experience that Dr. Hendricks gave us impassioned several important lessons about the living quality of history.  First, it gave me a sense of the hard physical work necessitated on the frontier, and it instilled in me an understanding of the sense of accomplishment those settlers must have had when they finished a major task.  Second, it taught me the importance of historical memory and religion in our identities as Americans, North Carolinians and Moravians. Third, it taught the value of museum education…those children were so empowered by my stories on those hikes in the woods to the graveyard. Finally, it taught me not to fear graveyards, but to see those in repose there as historical witnesses to the past.  Thanks, Dr. Hendricks.  May you rest in peace, and while you’re at it, give my best to our Moravian friends up there with you.

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