Hallie B. Hendrieth-Smith was a woman of stature.
Her height already gave her a commanding presence, but she accentuated her 5-foot-8 frame with high heels and an array of fancy hats that numbered about 70 when she died.
“I have never seen my grandmother not adorned with a hat at any event,” said her granddaughter, Bernadeia Johnson. “She had hat boxes on top of everything. She had shoes everywhere, too. She had shoes in file cabinets, shoes in drawers.”
But Hendrieth-Smith also earned her stature through leadership in the schools. She was one of the first black principals in Minneapolis schools, heading four North Side elementary schools. One was Hall, where her granddaughter later also was principal. Another was Lincoln, where she filled in as an interim principal in her early 80s.
Hendrieth-Smith died of complications of her age April 27 in Golden Valley. She was 99.
Hendrieth-Smith also rose to prominence in the African Methodist Church and beyond. She married Marlin John Hendrieth, the first full-time pastor of Wayman AME church in north Minneapolis. She helped the congregation move from a duplex, where services were held below the pastor’s residence, to its current church on SeventhAvenue N. After his death, she married pastor Noah Smith, who died in October at age 107.
Her ministries ranged from teaching Sunday school to leading the board of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. She also helped church families.
“I was almost born in her car,” said another pastor, Brenda L. Johnson, whose laboring mother got a ride to the hospital from Hendrieth-Smith. “She was my mentor in terms of what a lady and woman of God should be like.”
Hendrieth-Smith didn’t hesitate to speak up when she discovered church members living together. “A lot of people got married under her tutelage,” Johnson said. “She would just tell them like it is.”
Her willingness to dispense advice extended to her kin, said Bernadeia Johnson, who went on to become Minneapolis schools superintendent. “She was trying to tell me how to be superintendent one day, and I told her, ‘Grandmother, this is not Minneapolis back in the day,’ ” Johnson said.
Hendrieth-Smith was born in rural Alabama and attended segregated schools, some run by churches. She earned a two-year degree from Selma University. She starting teaching under a provisional license, but since her black students attended for only five months so they could work in fields, she was able to earn a bachelor’s degree at Alabama State. She later earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota and St. Mary’s University, respectively.
“She just demanded respect,” said retired Minneapolis school district administrator Mitch Trockman, who was her assistant principal at Willard. As an educator, she spoke softly but held high expectations for students, colleagues said. Trockman recalled her willingness to visit parents in their homes to discuss school issues.
“The things she didn’t think were right, she was very outspoken,” said retired principal Harvey Rucker. “She would let you know, ‘I don’t agree with you. This is what’s right.’ ”
Bernadeia Johnson was close to her grandmother, spending summers with her in Minneapolis as a teen. The two of them would shop for fabric together before her grandmother, who was serious about appearances, sewed them matching dresses.
One day, Johnson recalled, “She said, ‘Are you ill?’ I said no. She said, ‘You don’t have any lipstick on.’ Presentation was important to her.”
She is survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services have been held.