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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Campus remembers Whitney Hendrickson

whitneyweb2Tessa Cheek’s ’12 first memory of Whitney Hendrickson is a fitting one. Cheek was one-and-a-half, sitting in a Jolly Jumper suspended from a door frame. She was crying in terror; Hendrickson was using the door for extra jumping leverage.

“I was sitting there sobbing, I had no idea what was going on, and Whitney was jumping around crazily,” Cheek says.

It seems an appropriate start for their 17-year friendship. Hendrickson’s friends agree that certain moments were just better when she was around—funnier, crazier, more alive.

“Everyone says ‘live in the moment’, but she was one of the few people I met who really embodied that,” Cheek says. “She was fully invested in the people she was with, and things were always more fun when she was there.”

Hendrickson died on March 17 in her hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., when a pick-up truck collided with the gas pump she was using to fill up her minivan. The gas pump exploded, and witnesses were unable to get close enough to save Hendrickson from the fire. Friend Julie Podair ’12 was with Hendrickson at the time, but escaped without injury.

There are almost no words to communicate the tragedy of Hendrickson’s death. In the days after the news was passed along through phone calls, the online forum GrinnellPlans and an e-mail from Student Affairs, students were stunned. For many Grinnellians, it’s almost impossible to understand how this could happen to someone like Hendrickson—someone so bright and young and incredibly well-loved.

“She had a way of making you a little more daring because you were so into it,” Cheek said. “Whenever I did something that maybe turned out to be stupid, she was usually present. Once I jumped off a pier because she was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ I’m really bad at swimming, and my biggest fear was drowning, but still.”

There are a thousand stories about Hendrickson, but one clear consensus emerged: she loved people, and people loved her. Danica Radoshevich ’12 met her in sixth grade, when Hendrickson was performing in a production of “A Christmas Carol.” She saw Hendrickson on stage and waved to her. Undeterred by the ongoing production, Hendrickson waved back.

“I was just like, ‘Oh. I want to be friends with her,’” Radoshevich said.

Hendrickson brought the same energy to her life at Grinnell. Before they went out on the weekends, Kristen Mumaw ’12 and Hendrickson would meet in Mumaw’s room and sing rap songs to each other. For Halloween, Hendrickson built a piñata costume out of crepe paper and candy—a dress that looked surprisingly real, her friends say, until they started eating the candy off her.

“She was like, ‘Guys, stop it! This is a piece! It’s not for consumption!’” Cheek said while laughing.

Brad Gordon ’12 met Hendrickson after a night of parties, when he and 15 mutual friends decided to climb the big tree on Mac Field. They happened to sit on the same branch, and quickly exchanged names and phone numbers. For the next week and a half, Gordon texted Hendrickson regularly—until she agreed to go on their first date, a bike ride to Taco Bell.

“Whitney wasn’t the kind of person who needed romance thrown in her face,” Gordon said. “She wanted to find beauty in
everything. Her dad said something recently that characterized her perfectly—she was too busy living life to worry about what it meant.”

Gordon and Hendrickson, who dated for six months before Hendrickson’s death, spent a lot of their time just talking—on Gordon’s comfortable bed, or in the park a few blocks from Norris. They could joke about anything, Gordon said, even things that other people would find offensive or strange.

“We were constantly berating each other, for lack of a better word,” Gordon said. “That’s how we worked off each other. Everything in life was funny.”

Hendrickson did not fight with people much, her friends said. She didn’t see the point. With a whole world of costumes and rap battles and sunshine to be experienced, she wasn’t one to waste time on petty differences.

“She was always so aware of how precious things are, wasn’t worried about the future as much as living life for what it was,” Radoshevich said. “Any time I’d meet up with her, she’d seem to be enjoying whatever she was doing.”

Like all Grinnell students, Hendrickson wasn’t perfect, but her friends laugh thinking about it. She was forever losing things, they say, and she was constantly late. If she left something in a friend’s room, it would be there for weeks, even months, before they finally forced her to take it back.

“I think she lost five p-cards,” Podair said. “She’d lose her phone, and we’d go across campus looking for it, and she’d be like, ‘It might be in this person’s car from two days ago. Oh, I don’t have the keys, though.’”

Even in the midst of his grief, Gordon is trying to focus on the best parts of his time with Hendrickson. He thinks about small moments with her—visiting her after she had finished her homework, watching Arrested Development, and witnessing her obsession with

“Whitney just brought so much happiness to my life, and my entire world centered around making her happy,” he said. “It was my goal to see that smile and hear that laugh every single day. I can say with all honesty that my biggest achievement at Grinnell so far was getting Whitney Hendrickson to love me.”

A service to celebrate Hendrickson’s life will be held on Friday, April 3 at 4:30 P.M. in Herrick Chapel, with a reception following in JRC 101. At the service, her friends will be able to share their favorite memories of Hendrickson and pay tribute to the girl they say made every day better.

“Of my entire life, 80 to 90 percent of my most hilarious days were with her,” Radoshevich said.

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