The Quaker signpost in front of Reno Friends Meeting House was hand-crafted twenty years ago by Neil Hendricks. It’s a fitting reminder of Neil’s many contributions to, and his kind presence in, Reno Friends Meeting over many years.
One of his daughters, Tina, shared the following from his early life: “Neil Hendricks was a child of the Great Depression. He and his brother grew up in the tiny village of Kiowa, Oklahoma, where their parents ran a cotton gin. They managed to keep the wolf from the door, but that hungry wolf could be heard snuffling at the windows. Maybe it was those boyhood hard times that shaped Neil into a lifelong ascetic, denying himself luxuries while generously donating to worthy causes.”
As a young man Neil enrolled at Oklahoma A&M University in Stillwater, but soon left to join the Navy as the United States was entering WWII. Neil was stationed on Kodiak Island as an Aviation Radio Technician’s Mate. Although Neil had not experienced combat in the service in Alaska, he later said that he regretted not having been a conscientious objector, although it would probably have meant prison. He spent the rest of his days opposing war and promoting peace.
In 1955, Neil and his first wife, Sylvia, moved their growing family to Austin, Texas, where Neil began working as an engineer for the language laboratories at the University of Texas. During those family years, Neil also returned to Stillwater and completed degrees in Art and Industrial Engineering. By the time he left Austin, he was director of all of the university language labs. He and Sylvia had eight children during their 23 years together. Neil was an active Friend in Austin.
On May 11, 1970, he married Yoshiko (“Yoshi”) and began a new life in Reno, Nevada. His lifelong interest in music blossomed in Reno. He began building dulcimers and violas da gamba for a living and continued with this for 40 years. In this profession, he was able to combine his interests in music, visual aesthetics and solving engineering problems, as well as an appreciation for trees and exotic woods. He earned a reputation in particular for his bows. He and his friends shared music with Reno Friends on various occasions; their early music group was called the Nevada Barefoot Consort because they liked to play with shoes off.
Reno Friends remember Neil as a quiet but very busy activist, but it was only after his death that we learned he had been quite active for more than 30 years before we met him. He participated in the cross-country Great Peace March in 1986 and considered it one of the most important achievements of his life. Neil actively wrote letters to the editor on peace and justice issues, and seemed to have a knack for getting them published. In the 1980s, Neil went to Nicaragua to participate in a humanitarian project, helping to build a school there. He regularly attended peace vigils and demonstrations against capital punishment, and was honored with a Lifetime Dedication to Peace award by Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace in 2001. Neil was the inspiration for a student-organized Reno-to-Carson-City March in 2006.
Neil’s kind and caring spirit is perhaps best conveyed by the following recollection of a Reno Friend: “I always think about Neil when I hear the line from an Arlo Guthrie song called Last Train… ‘Maybe your ticket on the last train to glory is the stranger who’s been sleeping on your floor’. Neil was so soft-hearted he sometimes would bring homeless people in and give them a bed in his house. The last time he did that it turned out to be very difficult for Neil. He took home a man who had recently been released from prison and who was sleeping in a back corner of the Meeting House property. That time it ended rather badly, but it reinforced our admiration of someone willing to risk so much for ‘the least of these, my brothers’.”
Neil and Yoshi began attending Reno Friends Meeting in the early 1990s, when worship was held in members’ homes and the YWCA. In 1995 Reno Friends Meeting was able to purchase a rundown property next to the “Y” that would ultimately become its permanent home. Overhauling the property was a labor of love and economy for many members and attenders, and Neil was no exception. He is remembered for insisting, at age 74, that he was perfectly safe as he applied new shingles on that pitched roof. Neil is remembered not only for contributing his carpentry skills but for significant financial support. In his quiet, unassuming way, Neil wrote several checks during the property remodel when it was clear that funds were needed to go forward. Some years later Neil decided that rather than leave money to the Reno Friends Meeting in his will, he would help in the moment by paying off the balance of Meeting House loans, thus leaving the Meeting free and clear of debt.
Neil transferred his Quaker membership from Austin Meeting to Reno in 1997, though it was clear that Austin always held a special place in his heart. He was a regular presence at Reno’s Meeting for Worship, bringing steadiness, calm and a sense of humor. As Neil was not one to talk about himself, it took Reno Friends a while to learn of his many children and eventful life.
Neil supported the meeting as unofficial caretaker for years, raking leaves, shoveling snow, cleaning up graffiti or touching up paint. Neil’s activism also surfaced in his love and devotion to animals. Yoshi and Neil adopted many stray dogs and cats over the years, and Friends remember him bringing several of the dogs with him each Sunday when he came to open the Meeting House. The dogs, also heading up in years, had a modest walk with Neil around the park before they went back into the truck for a quiet hour’s wait until worship ended.
At 88, Neil’s health was deteriorating. In 2010, he moved back to Austin, where his son James (Jimmy) could provide him care. He lived out most of his last years in James’ home. Neil passed away in January 2018 with family at his side. He has been greatly missed by Reno Friends in the years since he moved, and he will always be remembered fondly.