Behind the history, evolution and accomplishments of Mercer are the dedicated Bears who worked tirelessly to get it there. Some of those names have become synonymous with the University and, once spoken, bring back floods of memories by those who had the pleasure to know them or to know of their legacy.

The Den’s “Mercer Legends” series will highlight iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community. It is our hope that these stories will honor the memory of these individuals while educating young Mercerians on the “legends” who came before them. We begin with Joseph “Papa Joe” Hendricks. 

Dr. Joseph “Papa Joe” Hendricks

Mercer connection: 1955 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and faculty member and administrator for more than 40 years.

Years at Mercer: Student, 1951-55; faculty member and administrator, 1959-2000.

What he did: Dr. Hendricks joined Mercer’s faculty as the director of religious activities and went on to serve in numerous other roles, including Christianity professor, dean of men, dean of students, general assistant to President Rufus Harris, acting vice president of academic affairs, University marshal and faculty adviser to Mercer University Press. He helped start Mercer’s Upward Bound program and co-founded the Freshman Seminar program with his sister, Dr. Jean Hendricks, another notable faculty member and administrator. After he retired in 2000, he continued serving Mercer as an ambassador to the University during alumni events. 

Why he is a legend: Dr. Hendricks, who died at age 81 in 2015, was one of the longest serving and most beloved faculty members at Mercer. He was an instrumental figure at the University during the Civil Rights Movement. He helped bring the first Black student, Sam Oni, to campus in 1963 and worked relentlessly to make diversity an asset to the University community. Generations of alumni have recalled with fondness how Dr. Hendricks made an effort to get to know them personally, checked on them frequently and was always there to help. He believed that Mercer was not just a school but a family, and his kindness earned him the nickname “Papa Joe.”

His memory continues to be honored through awards and scholarships. Each year, the Joe and Jean Hendricks Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes an outstanding faculty member, and the Student Government Association presents a current student with the Papa Joe Hendricks Award for Positive Contributions to the Mercer Community. In addition, a group of alumni, faculty and staff created the Joe and Jean Hendricks Minority Endowed Scholarship.

Quotable: “Joe Hendricks was a singularly compelling figure in the history of Mercer University. For a generation of students, he was not only their most influential teacher but also became their moral compass. He taught with passion and he embraced students with a listening ear and genuine respect. He taught all of us that coming to the University was not only a journey of learning, but also a journey of wrestling with the values that should shape our lives.” — Mercer Chancellor Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, who served as the University’s president from 1979 to 2006


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