The first scholarship awarded by William Hendrickson went to a boy whose parents couldn't afford to send him to college. The boy later went to medical school and became a surgeon.
Hendrickson was just a poor farm boy himself when he enrolled at Saint Mary's University in the late 1930s with the help of extended family. So when he got the chance, Hendrickson had to help out those who couldn't afford a higher education. In his lifetime, he donated millions of dollars for ethics and leadership programs to several colleges in Minnesota, including SMU.
Hendrickson died Friday in Naples, Florida. He was 91, and left behind four children, a wife and hundreds of college students.
"He believed in education to the point where it was his life," said Jean Hendrickson, his wife.
A native of Plainview, Minn., he was the director, chairman and chairman emeritus of St. Jude Medical Inc. of St. Paul. But his main passion was SMU, said his wife. It was where he started out.
In 1988, Hendrickson and his wife partnered with SMU to identify, encourage and develop globally oriented leaders. The Hendricksons funded the first of SMU's "Tomorrow's Leaders Scholarships," which provide assistance to students who commit to a lifestyle of ethical behavior and good character.
The Hendricksons established the "Hendrickson Institute for Ethical Leadership" at SMU in 1994. Throughout the years, the institute has provided training on ethical leadership, serving for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
In 2003, the couple established "Tomorrow's Leaders High School Scholarship Program," which provided incentives for Midwestern high school students to complete leadership and service projects within their communities and schools. And in 2007, the Hendrickson Institute was moved from SMU's Winona campus to its Twin Cities campus to expand the programming to that community. The Hendrickson Institute and SMU established an annual speaker series, the "Hendrickson Institute for Ethical Leadership Forum."
Up to the day he died, Hendrickson was giving money to students who needed help. He believed in them and wanted the world to be full of educated people, his wife said.
"If they have the ability and are willing to work hard, they ought to be there," she said. "He got that chance. So should they."