Floyd Henderson was the epitome of a scholar-athlete.
After a standout athletic record in high school in Oklahoma and at Valparaiso University in Indiana, he went on to a career as a research librarian for the U.S. Forest Service and Minneapolis Public Libraries.
Henderson, of Minneapolis, died April 11. He was 87.
“A trailblazer for our department and university, Floyd’s impact on our campus is felt to this day and will be for years to come,” the Valparaiso athletic department said in a statement. “He represented the university in a commendable manner both during his playing days in football and track and in his career as a biological science librarian with the U.S. Forest Service.”
The university said it welcomed him back to campus in 2013 for his “well-deserved enshrinement” into the university’s athletics Hall of Fame.
Henderson was born on May 18, 1932, in Muskogee, Okla., and raised by his grandmother, Ida Bridges. He attended a segregated high school (Manual Training High School) in the northeastern Oklahoma city of 30,000.
As a senior, he helped Manual Training go unbeaten in 10 games and win the Oklahoma state football championship for black schools. As a standout in both basketball and football for Manual Training, he drew the interest of several colleges before he accepted an athletic scholarship to Valparaiso.
In the fall of 1951, he became the first black athlete to compete for Valparaiso, five years after the first black students had enrolled at the school. As a freshman, he helped the Crusaders go 9-0. After his sophomore year, he was drafted and served two years in the Army. He returned to Valparaiso to finish his degree in business administration in 1957.
After he turned down tryout offers from two NFL teams, Henderson and his wife, Susan, whom he met at Valparaiso, and two young children moved to Minnesota. Henderson earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Minnesota.
He began his career in library science with Control Data Corp., which had opened in 1957. After time at Control Data, he went to work as research librarian for the U.S. Forest Service in St. Paul. He retired from that job in 1995.
During that time, he also worked part time for the Minneapolis Public Library system.
“He always worked two jobs,” said his son, Scott Henderson. “He worked every Saturday and one or two nights a week. He worked at the North Regional Library and at Sumner Library in south Minneapolis. He loved being around books and helping children.”
Jeffrey Rosales, Henderson’s co-worker at both the Minneapolis Public Library and Forest Service, said, “He was a very friendly fellow and treated others as peers, very human. My first career was with the U.S. Forest Service in the Superior National Forest. It was a huge surprise when Floyd shared that he also was an employee with the Forest Service and worked as a librarian at the experiment station in St. Paul. I have only fond memories of Floyd and am sorry for his family’s loss.”
In 2013, Henderson summed up his Valparaiso experience for the Valparaiso student newspaper, “It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I was fortunate enough to have individuals on the team that were very nice fellas, who had liberal ideas. It wasn’t any problem, really fitting in individually with the rest of my teammates.”
In addition to his son, he is survived by two sisters, Judy Henderson and Doris Ray, and five grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.