Thanks in part to an enormous group of baby boomers graduating from high school, the era of the mid-1960s was a boom time for Denison’s enrollment. In the center of the College’s skyrocketing student growth was economics professor Bill Henderson. Henderson’s recruiting helped expand the size of the economics department to match the growing numbers of students, and beyond that, the increasing popularity of economics as a major.
“He really was the architect of a strong economics department,” says Dan Fletcher, professor emeritus of economics.
Henderson grew up in Saint Clairsville, Ohio. As a high school student, he was an exceptional trombone player, and he served as drum major and assistant band director. His love of music—particularly jazz and big band—carried through the rest of his life.
Henderson was drafted into the Army Air Corps out of high school, and he went on to attend The Ohio State University with the help of the GI Bill. He earned his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. from OSU.
When Henderson arrived at Denison in 1960, the school was in the midst of a decade-long growth spurt that ultimately swelled the student body by nearly 500. Economics was the hottest major on campus, with nearly one-quarter of the senior class majoring in the field some years, according to Paul King, professor emeritus of economics.
Henderson helped attract strong faculty to keep pace with student demand, and he prepared students in his classroom well for the world beyond Denison’s campus. “He was a tough teacher,” recalls King. “He demanded good work from his students—and he helped them accomplish that great work.”
Henderson’s research passion was urban economics. He loved to study the complex mix of resources, human diversity, and policy ideas that help cities become—and remain—vibrant.
Although he spent most of his career as an economist at Denison, where he was honored with the John E. Harris Endowed Chair, Henderson occasionally stepped outside his academic role. He served as director of planning and development at Indiana’s Wabash College, where he helped the school raise $45 million. He was also assistant to the president at Denison.
Henderson died on March 27, 2015. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Irma Pogany Henderson. He is survived by wife Debbie Patterson; daughter, Carol; and three grandchildren.