John and Charlotte Henderson will soon celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary.
When they do, the longtime Baytown couple, who now live on Steiner Ranch in Austin, will enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest married couple on the planet.
“We’ve had a good life,” John Henderson said.
John Henderson was born on Dec. 24, 1912, and will turn 107 this year. Charlotte Henderson turned 105 Friday.
They were married on Dec. 22, 1939, and provided some of the keys to their 80-year marriage, including the University of Texas football, travel, friendship, respect, exercise and moderation.
“Everything in moderation: No over drinking, no overeating, and trying to exercise regularly,” said John Henderson, who still goes to the exercise room regularly at Longhorn Village.
Charlotte’s advice for a long, happy marriage: “Don’t go to bed at night mad.”
Glena Pfennig, a former reporter with the Baytown Sun who has known the couple for years, said John Henderson was president of the Humble Oil Credit Union, which is now Community Resource Credit Union, for 25 years.
“That was a big deal,” Pfennig said.
Pfennig said John Henderson was also the treasurer for the Baytown Kiwanis Club for 34 years, and the couple was active at the Trinity Episcopal Church, where they attended from 1939 to 2009.
“He was the senior warden and treasurer there,” she said. “John Henderson was also a Regent at Lee College for a number of years.”
Pfennig said John Henderson was also president of the Baytown Chapter of the Texas Exes, the official alumni association for the University of Texas. Charlotte Henderson taught as a substitute teacher in Goose Creek CISD and was a P.E.O. President, Pfennig added.
Amy Currie, who went to church with the Hendersons, said she was ecstatic to hear of the news they are making the Guinness World Records.
“They are just a delightful couple, and they are amazing, even to this day,” Currie said. “I will just be delighted for them to receive that honor. They are a lovely couple.”
Met in Austin in 1934
John and Charlotte Henderson met at the University of Texas in zoology class in 1934.
“He sat right behind me in class,” Charlotte Henderson said. “We got to know each other that way. He looked at my notes every now and then.”
It didn’t take John long to ask Charlotte out. He would pick her up for class in a 1925 Dodge Roadster, a rare luxury in those days because there were only about 100 cars on campus.
“I felt pretty special being picked up in that every day,” Charlotte said.
John purchased the car for $26.
“That was the best $26 I ever spent,” he added.
Both were education majors, and John played football and coincidentally is also the oldest living UT football player.
“I earned 50 cents an hour for two hours a day in the Athletic Council office because I was the only athlete who could type,” he said. “It was a super job on the campus, in my opinion, because it was hard to find a job during the Great Depression.”
Money was tight
After earning their degrees in education, both decided to teach for a couple of years to save up some money before getting married. They both taught school in the Houston area, and John coached football as well.
“Both of us were broke. None of us had any money,” Charlotte said. “I thought we should work a while.”
“$100 a month wasn’t much, but you could buy a lot in those days,” John said.
Stamps were 2-cents each, sodas were 5-cents each, hamburgers were 19 cents a pound, and $10 could buy two bags filled with groceries.
Charlotte remembers telling her boss at KinKaid School, “I’m going to get married at Christmas.”
She remembers he was discouraged that she was going to get married midway through the school year and would be changing her name.
But Charlotte kept her plans, and five years after they met, the couple got married before lunch on a cold winter’s day.
“The weather was terrible,” said Charlotte, who wore a brown dress with a fur collar to her wedding. She remembers it was “perfect for that time of year.”
John had bought her an orchid for their wedding day.
“Charlotte was shy. She didn’t want a big wedding,” John said. Two people stood up for them during the ceremony, one was a good friend of Charlotte’s mother, and the other was one of John’s former students.
They drove away to start their honeymoon in a 1936 Ford, which was black. In those days, “you could get any color Ford you wanted, as long as it was black,” John joked.
John, who hadn’t been at his new job at the Humble Oil & Refining Company long, didn’t tell anybody at his work that he was getting married.
As they were driving off on their way to San Antonio, a car came up behind them. It was an old acquaintance, John Sylvester, who also worked at Humble Oil, and he shared the news at work.
The Hendersons made it to San Antonio. It cost $7.50 a night to stay at the St. Anthony, a luxury collection hotel. Charlotte kept the receipt. Decades later for their 50th anniversary, they stayed there again even though the rates were much higher.
In 1939, the newlyweds traveled from San Antonio to Austin on their honeymoon. They remember eating at the Austin Country Club and stopped in to see family.
Their first home was a garage apartment in Baytown, outside of Houston. They lived in Baytown for 70 years.
In those early years of marriage, Charlotte taught school, and John continued working at Humble Oil.
It was World War II, and John remembers how important Humble Oil’s work was. “We produced more than half of the explosives used by the Allies for World War II,” he said.
At the time, Humble entered into a contract with the U.S. War Department for toluene, one of the key ingredients in the explosive trinitrotoluene, or TNT. A plant called the Baytown Ordnance Works was quickly built and became the world’s first commercial synthetic toluene plant, John recalled.
Humble Oil later became Exxon, where John worked there for 34 years and retired in 1972.
Charlotte had retired from school teaching after several years.
Living life to the fullest
The Hendersons, who never had children, traveled the world and took many cruises. They’ve been to Asia, Norway, Europe, Alaska and South America.
They always wanted to move back to Austin, where they fell in love in the 1930s. They did just that in 2009 and became the first couple to move into Longhorn Village in Steiner.
For eight decades, the couple has been attending UT football games. John has attended at least one game during every season since his freshman year at UT in 1932.
This year John got to be part of the coin toss at one of the UT home games. Charlotte was so proud to see him on TV being part of such official honors.
Recently John’s great-nephew, Jason Free of Austin, alerted Guinness World Records about the Henderson’s. Free helped them provide the proof necessary, including marriage certificate and birth certificates for the Guinness designation of the oldest married couple.
The Hendersons are very pleased with the title, and they sum their relationship up well.
“We’ve just had a good time together,” Charlotte said.
“We’ve just been great companions,” John said. “I never thought about it being any other way.”
John Henderson is the oldest person who played football at the University of Texas, lettering from 1933 to 1935.
“The best part (of playing college football) was becoming so well acquainted with the other players and making lifelong friends,” John said.
He has seen radical changes in the game.
“There were no face masks then, no mouthpieces. We had soft, leather helmets, not made of hard plastic,” John said.
When John began playing football in 1932 as a guard, freshman teams were not eligible to play varsity, so they had their own schedule. In 1933 John played under Clyde Littlefield during his final year as a coach. The following year Jack Chevigny was hired and coached the team well, beating Notre Dame (the coach’s alma mater), Texas A&M and University of Oklahoma.
“We had a pretty good year,” John remembered.
After that season, the fans were so happy they pitched in and bought Chevigny a new Cadillac LaSalle Coup, John recalled. (Chevigny later became the Deputy Attorney General of Texas and lost his life on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.)
Rules have changed in the game of football since John started playing.
Quarterbacks then called all of the plays, and coaches could not send in plays or signal from the sidelines.
Also, if a player was substituted, they could not go back in. Rules gradually changed for players to be able to go back at the half, then at the quarter, and now every other play if need be.
Football then was not as supported as it is today. “There wasn’t that much enthusiasm for it then,” he said.
Born and raised in Ft. Worth, John started playing the game in high school, and he stayed in high school an extra semester because of it.
“I was elected captain of the football team. Even though I had credits to graduate in June, I took shop, music appreciation, typing and Spanish in the fall,” John said.
That turned out to be a good thing too because there were no scholarships to play sports at UT in the 1930s, and he could work at the Athletic Counsel office to earn money.
Baytown Sun reporter Matt Hollis contributed to this story.