Longtime Chemistry Professor Bids Farewell
Date published: June 26, 2019
The front corner of his desk is buried beneath shells, large quartzes and rocks. On
one side of his office tucked away on the third floor of the Haggerty Science Building,
a nerf gun rests below a shelf of notebooks. And behind his desk, picturesque mountain
landscapes of the many parks he’s visited over the decades decorate a tall metal filing
“Golly wally,” says longtime Professor of Chemistry William “Bill” Hendrickson, Ph.D.
“Some of these books I’ve had since I was an undergraduate.” He reaches above his
desk for one such course text, Guide to Technical Writing, from his own student days at Louisiana Tech University. “I’m gradually getting everything
At UD Hendrickson is loved and admired by his fellow faculty and students alike, who
perhaps know him best for his slender figure and iconic grey beard resembling that
of a rugged frontier explorer eager to set out on his next hike. During his 40-year
tenure, he most notably instructed the university's Organic Chemistry course sequence,
teaching students the study of the organic molecular compounds found in all living
A physical organic chemist with a specialty in the mechanisms of free radical reactions,
Hendrickson helped procure more than $1 million in funding through research grants
awarded to UD from the Welch Foundation and the American Chemical Society. He co-authored
15 undergraduate student publications, and also served as an adviser for the Student
American Chemical Society Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter.
A former chair of the Chemistry Department and director of the O’Hara Chemical Sciences
Institute for two decades, Hendrickson played a key role in a number of campus activities
that continue to this day, including the annual Mole Day celebration held during National
Chemistry Week on Oct. 23, where you can find students exploding oxygen and hydrogen
balloons at 6:02 a.m. on the Mall. In 2014, Hendrickson was additionally named a King
Fellow at the university’s annual faculty awards, recognizing his well-deserving tenure
of exemplary teaching, service and scholarship at UD.
Raised in the college town of Ruston, Louisiana, Hendrickson knew he belonged in the
classroom from a young age. “I didn’t particularly want a real job,” he says. “I grew up on a dead-end street, and most of our neighbors were professors.
I would see these guys come home early in the afternoon and thought, hey, that looks
like an easy gig. Boy, was I wrong.”
Interestingly, chemistry was neither his favorite subject nor his first choice of
study in school. “What I tell most people when they ask why I’m a scientist: I would’ve
preferred to have been a history professor,” he explains. “But the sciences weren’t
as competitive at the time.”
Hendrickson received his bachelor’s from Louisiana Tech, after which he attended Louisiana
State University, where he met and married his wife, Connie, and earned his doctorate
in organic chemistry in 1974. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins
University thereafter and, before finding his way to North Texas, worked a two-year
stint as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
When Hendrickson accepted an invitation to teach at UD in 1979, the Chemistry Department
was still housed in Carpenter Hall, where it shared a space with the Biology Department. “When I first got to UD, there really wasn’t much. ... the administration was very
small,” says Hendrickson, who began working at UD the same month his son, David, was
“We live down in South Irving, so it takes me 15 minutes to get to work,” he continues.
“We’ve lived in the same house for 40 years.”
North Texas also provided both Hendrickson and his wife with stable sources of employment
and income. “We moved about five or six times in four years, and when we got to UD we said, ‘No,
that’s enough,’” he says. “I came here and like a tick just burrowed in.”
“It’s been nice working in such a close department,” says Hendrickson. “These are
good students … They ask good questions, and they care about learning.”
“Both of my parents were Texans,” explains Hendrickson, whose mother relocated to
Louisiana sometime around the Great Depression to work at JCPenny. Two of his great-grandfathers
are also buried in Denton, Texas. He adds: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here
as soon as I could — it just took 30 years.”
Outside of the classroom and lab, Hendrickson is looking forward to spending his leisure
time visiting Texas state parks and his cabin on his 20-acre property in Bosque County.
“It’s a nice two-story cabin right on the edge of a valley, located at the crest of
the Hill Country,” he explains. “It’s essentially a hunter’s cabin,” he adds. “We
don’t have any running water, but we have electricity.”
“We’ve got three dogs, basset hounds, so they come down and chase the armadillos,”
After some time teaching at UD, Hendrickson ventured out to the New Mexico mountains,
which were enticing to his love of hiking and exploring the outdoors; in the decades
to follow, he visited more than two dozen state parks and 49 states in between teaching full-time
during the academic year. “I’m really looking forward to being able to do things during the week again,” says
The now retired UD chemistry professor already has his next adventure planned for
this coming September: Yellowstone.