Today is my father’s 86th birthday, and I’m grateful to be able to spend it with him. He was a storied high school basketball coach in North Carolina and played the game in high school, college, and the Air Force. Here, as a center on Saint Augustine’s College’s team, he takes a jumper over future Globetrotter Curley Neal.
In June of this year, the Henderson family lost an extra-special cousin to COVID-19. Today would have been Reginald J. Henderson Sr.‘s 76th birthday. By happenstance, I ran across his high school yearbook online today and found his senior portrait.
We miss you, Cousin Reggie!
The Tiger (1962), G.W. Carver High School, Mount Olive, N.C., digitized at DigitalNC.
Cousin Onra at the 2018 Henderson Family Reunion, Atlanta.
Onra Henderson Camp Dillard, my grandmother’s paternal first cousin, turns one hundred today. She had long wanted to celebrate in Dudley, North Carolina, her hometown, but recent health challenges and this pandemic wouldn’t allow it. We did the best thing under the circumstances, however, and gathered virtually via Zoom to honor the oldest living member of our Henderson Clan.
It was beautiful, tech glitches and all. It’s Cousin Onra’s birthday, and it’s Mother Day weekend, and COVID-19 has kept apart even those of us who live in the same cities, so how could seeing all those little boxes filled with loving faces not have been great? There were songs and prayers and praises, and the thrill of seeing Cousin Onra laugh and, even now, in that rich voice we know so well, say a few words.
WHEREAS, on the occasion of her centennial birthday, the Henderson family wishes to recognize and honor our matriarch Onra Henderson Camp Dillard; and
WHEREAS, Onra Luevicey Henderson was born May 9, 1920, in Dudley, North Carolina, to Henry Lee Henderson and Christine Lenora Aldridge Henderson; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard is the second child and eldest daughter of eight children and is much treasured by brother Kenneth Avon Henderson and sister Mona Faye Henderson Sutton; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard as a young child joined First Congregational United Church of Christ in Dudley, a church founded by her ancestors; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard was educated in the public schools of Wayne County, graduating Dillard High School, after which she attended finishing school at historic Palmer Memorial Institute near Greensboro, North Carolina; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson married William Homer Camp on December 31, 1938, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and to this union was born a son, William Homer Camp Jr.; and
WHEREAS, in 1940 Onra and Homer Camp joined the Great Migration to settle in Washington, D.C., soon purchasing the home on Seventh Street S.E., in which she still resides; and
WHEREAS, Onra Camp married Jackson Dillard on October 19, 1945, in Washington, D.C.; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard supported the nation’s war efforts through employment at the Department of the Navy, and continued her career in the Navy Department as a supply officer for more than thirty years; and
WHEREAS, in the early 1940s, Onra Henderson Dillard joined People’s Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., beginning a lifelong commitment to Christ-centered service that included positions as president of the Evangelism and Outreach Committee and the April/May Birth-Month Club; membership on search committees for senior and associate pastors; member and secretary of the Board of Trustees; chairwoman of the confirmation committee; confirmation class teacher; deacon; chair of the repast committee for funerals; membership in the Wednesday Prayer Group, the Senior Leisure Group, and the Music Aid Circle; and singing in two choirs; and
WHEREAS, moreover, Onra Henderson Dillard has a distinguished record of service within the Congregationalist UCC denomination, including its Potomac Association and Central Atlantic Conference, and has represented the UCC with the Interfaith Conference in Washington, DC; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard has been an activist on behalf of her Capitol Hill community, by, as a member of the Community Council, helping to stop construction that would have displaced many families and to establish 31 libraries in elementary schools, and using her paralegal training to provide volunteer services, including consumer counseling workshops, for the Council for the Elderly for many years; and
WHEREAS, Onra Henderson Dillard is a loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, sister, aunt, and cousin to many who cherish and revere her; and
WHEREAS, beloved by her family and friends, Onra Henderson Dillard has lived a long and productive life setting an example of service to all; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the Henderson Family that we commend and honor Onra Henderson Dillard for her lifetime of commitment to her family, church, and community and, be it
RESOLVED FURTHER, that the Henderson Family prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to Onra Henderson Dillard as an expression of the family’s love and best wishes on this, her 100th birthday.
This 9th day of May, 2020,
The Henderson Family
Cousin Onra, my grandmother, me, and Cousin Evelyn at a family reunion in the early 1990s.
Ten years ago today, my family gathered to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday. We were blessed beyond measure to have been loved so long by Margaret Colvert Allen.
Cousin Onra and her brother, Johnnie D. Henderson, 1940s.
Wishing my first cousin twice removed, Onra Henderson Camp Dillard, the happiest 98th birthday!
Cousin Onra and I at her home in Washington, D.C., 2016.
The Record (Statesville, N.C.), 10 December 1937.
- For an overview of the Petty family, see here.
- Jacolia Hall was the daughter of Kermit C.J. Hall and Marjorie Petty Hall.
- Delia Macheree Walker was the daughter of Gilmer and Eva Petty Walker (and thus Jacolia’s cousin, not niece.)
- James Edward Walker was Macheree’s brother.
- Delia Petty was Eva Petty Walker’s mother.
- Eva Petty Walker was the daughter of Lon W. Colvert and Delia Petty.
My grandmother worked as a dietician at Dorie Miller Recreation Center in Newport News, Virginia. The organizers of a teen beauty contest were looking for more contestants, and my 13 year-old mother casually entered.
“And the winner is … Beverly Allen!”
Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), 15 August 1951.
New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Virginia), 25 August 1951.
The summer after high school, to while away the hours until enrollment at Hampton Institute, she entered the Fancy Pants and Sport Shirt Ball at the city of Hampton’s African-American beach resort, the Bay Shore Hotel. In a midriff-baring genie outfit whipped up by my grandmother, she took second. (But really? You be the judge….)
New Journal and Guide (Norfolk, Virginia), 30 June 1956.
Sixty-two years later, she’s still beautiful … inside and out.
Happy 80th birthday to this abiding blessing, my mother, with love.
Wishing my little sister a 50th birthday filled with love and laughter!
Wishing cousin Willis H. James the happiest 96th birthday!
During the school year, the rhythms of my childhood moved around my father’s coaching schedule. He assisted in football and track, but basketball was his forte. Tuesdays and Fridays were game nights from the time I was born — that first winter, students changed my diapers in the gymnasium bathroom while my mother cheered in the bleachers.
My father has been a rock and a guide to my sister and me, but he also deeply impacted the hundreds of young men who played basketball for him. He was a sternly principled coach who cared as much about their lives off the court as their production on it. Basketball had been a path to success for him, a means to get an education that his family could not otherwise have afforded. He is a great believer in “getting your books,” and he did all he could to prepare his players for college and to guide them to opportunities to play at that level.
#7, center, C.H. Darden High School varsity basketball team, 1952.
During his years playing basketball in the Air Force, circa 1956.
Playing center at Saint Augustine’s College, circa 1960.
Every once in a while, some of my father’s former players will get together to take him out to reminisce over a good meal. I’m sure they all join me, my mother and sister in wishing him the happiest of birthdays!
Photo credits: C.H. Darden High School yearbook, 1952; personal collection; courtesy of J. Battle.