Joseph M. Hendricks, a longtime and beloved Mercer University faculty member and administrator, died late Saturday. He was 81.
Hendricks, affectionately known as "Papa Joe," was an instrumental figure during the civil rights movement, according to a university news release. He was credited with helping to bring Mercer's first black student, Sam Oni, to campus in 1963.
"As the Mercer family mourns our loss of Joe Hendricks, we remember that Papa Joe continues to live on through the lives of the thousands of students he nurtured, through the work of scores of colleagues he shaped, and through the character of this university which he inspired," Mercer president William D. Underwood said in the release. "The soul of our university will forever bear the imprint of Papa Joe. His legacy will endure as long as students walk the halls of Mercer."
The family has planned a private burial. A public memorial service is expected to be held on campus early next year, with details to be released later.
Hendricks, a 1955 graduate of Mercer's College of Liberal Arts, served the university for more than 40 years. He served as an ambassador for the university in his retirement.
He received numerous awards and recognitions during his tenure. He served as a professor of Christianity, dean of men, dean of students, general assistant to President Rufus C. Harris and acting vice president of academic affairs.
He believed that Mercer is a family, rather than just an institution, and worked relentlessly toward diversity, according to the release.
"Joe Hendricks was a singularly compelling figure in the history of Mercer University," Mercer chancellor R. Kirby Godsey, who served as the university's president from 1979 to 2006, said in the release. "For a generation of students, he was not only their most influential teacher but also became their moral compass."
An ordained minister, Hendricks served as a pastor at several area churches. He was also active in the civil rights movement within the local community at the state level, which also earned him distinction and awards. He served as an Olympic torchbearer when the torch passed through Macon before the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta
"Dean Joe Hendricks embodied the spirit of Mercer University as a student, as a professor, as an administrator and as a distinguished alumnus," former Mercer Board of Trustees chairman David Hudson, a 1969 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts, said in the release. "He devoted his life to Christ-like service for equal rights, for expansion of knowledge and understanding, and for loving his neighbor."
Hendricks is survived by his wife of 60 years, Betty McGahee Hendricks, their three children, Catherine Hendricks, Joseph Hendricks and his wife, Kelly, and Barbara Jean Hendricks Barkley and her husband, Ron, and four grandchildren.