“No one has had a greater impact on The University of Tulsa than Ben Henneke,” said TU President Steadman Upham. “TU’s national reputation is a testament to his unquestionable faith in the future of this university. Ben’s leadership, talent, dedication and wisdom enriched our campus for eight decades. No other institution of higher education in the nation has been the lucky beneficiary of such statesmanship. But, most important of all, Ben inspired a passion for intellectual inquiry in generations of students. He leaves a legacy in the hearts and minds of those he profoundly influenced as a teacher and mentor.”
Henneke was born in St. Louis, Mo., on May 20, 1914. He graduated from The University of Tulsa with a bachelor’s degree in English, the University of Iowa with a master’s degree in theatre and the University of Illinois, where he earned a doctorate in speech.
A lifelong association with TU began in 1931 when Henneke enrolled as a freshman. He worked part time in the university publicity office, wrote for the student newspaper and acted in university theatre productions. During this time he also wrote the “Hurricane Fight Song,” which is still heard at most TU athletic events.
Henneke joined the TU faculty in 1936 as assistant professor of speech and director of theatre. In this capacity, he launched a highly successful radio quiz program, “Going to College,” which aired nationwide from 1945 to 1952. He was the author of the first textbook on radio announcing, the “Radio Announcer’s Handbook,” published in 1949 by Rinehart & Company (with three print runs) and revised and reprinted in 1959 (with six print runs), and “Reading Aloud Effectively,” also published by Rinehart.
Henneke taught in TU’s department of speech and theatre until 1952, when he became the university’s academic vice president. He was named TU president in 1958 and served in this capacity until 1967, when he returned to the classroom as a trustees professor of humanities. Henneke taught for 12 years after stepping aside as president, introducing a new generation of students to Greek, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance culture. He retired in 1979 and was named president emeritus in 1982.
During Henneke’s presidency, the university achieved many milestones, including the development of the North Campus as a center for petroleum engineering research, the founding of the “James Joyce Quarterly” and “Petroleum Abstracts,” and the expansion of the campus with the addition of McClure Hall, Oliphant Hall, Sharp Memorial Chapel, Mabee Gymnasium and the Physical Plant that still heats and cools most of TU’s 200-acre campus.
Henneke also was credited with significantly advancing TU’s academic reputation by establishing new doctoral programs, doubling the number of faculty members with doctorates, and instigating the university’s efforts to obtain a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honor society. TU’s chapter was chartered in 1989, and Henneke was inducted as an alumni member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1991.
In 1990, Council Oak Books published “Laura Keene, A Biography,” Henneke’s life of the 19th-century actress and theatre manager whose company was performing at Ford’s Theatre the night of President Lincoln’s assassination. Henneke adapted the biography as a one-woman play, “a.k.a. Laura Keene,” presented by the TU theatre department in 1995 with TU faculty member Lisa Wilson in the title role.
Henneke also presented his popular “Reading You’ll Like” lecture series sponsored by the Tulsa City-County Library from 1983 to 1991. The lectures were broadcast on KWGS, the radio station Henneke was instrumental in founding at TU in 1947, with funds from Tulsa oilman William G. Skelly, whose initials form the station’s call letters.
As a writer, Henneke was prolific, contributing to national publications such as “Biblio,” “Quill,” and “Wisdom” in addition to writing a weekly column for the Tulsa Tribune from 1988 to 1992. His monthly columns for the St. Simeon’s newsletter, “Quill of the Hill,” were collected and published in 2005 as “Writing with a Quill Pen.” In 2008 a second compendium of his feuilletons’ was published as “Typescript.” The proceeds from the sale of the books benefit the St. Simeon’s Employee Education Fund. “A Ravenna Mosaic,” Henneke’s book-length poem inspired by the 5th and 6th-century mosaics in the ancient Italian city of Ravenna, was published by TU in 2007.
Henneke received many honors in his lifetime. He was a member of the Southwest Theatre Conference Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame, the Tulsa Hall of Fame, the Tulsa Central High School Alumni Hall of Fame (first inductee) and the Tulsa City-County Library Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of the Harwelden Lifetime Achievement Award and a number of Silver Anvil awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America.
During his career, Henneke served on advisory boards including those of the National Broadcasting Company, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Southwest Theater Conference. His credentials also included more than 150 acting and directing credits in community and university theatre.
Henneke’s legacy at TU includes his gifts of the Henneke Archives of the Performing Arts and his personal papers, as well as the hundreds of books he purchased for McFarlin Library over his lifetime in memory of friends and colleagues. The university also is the home of the Ben Graf Henneke Endowment Fund for the TU Heritage Committee, an endowment dedicated to preserving TU history, and the Henneke Graduate Fellowships established through the generosity of the Chapman Trusts.
In 2004, a gubernatorial proclamation presented at Henneke’s 90th birthday party recognized May 20th as “Dr. Ben Graf Henneke Day” in the state of Oklahoma. More than 300 attended the TU luncheon including former students who traveled from out of state to honor their teacher.
Henneke was preceded in death by his wife, Ellen Eaves Henneke. He is survived by a daughter, Hilary Henneke Carlson of Denver, Colo., a son and daughter-in-law, Ben Graf Henneke, Jr., and Vannesa Allen Henneke of Tulsa, seven grandchildren, Ingrid Carlson Barrier and Christina Carlson Crowley, both of Denver, Colo.; Adam Henneke of Portland, Ore.; Blair Henneke Martin of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; John Woodriff of Charlottesville, Va., Hans Woodriff of Vinalhaven, Maine, and Chapman Woodriff of Tarifa, Spain; and four great-grandchildren, Siri and Karolina Barrier of Denver; John Carlson Crowley of Denver; and Elijah Eaves Martin of Dar es Salaam.