Former small-town lawyer, Korean War veteran turned state Supreme Court justice dies

2012-12-31T05:00:00Z Former small-town lawyer, Korean War veteran turned state Supreme Court justice diesAaron Orlowski Journal staff Rapid City Journal
December 31, 2012 5:00 am  • 

Frank E. Henderson, a South Dakota Supreme Court justice and a two-time state senator, died Friday at the age of 84.

Henderson died at Sheridan VA Medical Center in Sheridan, Wyo., but most recently lived in Hill City. He leaves behind eight children and his wife. He was born in 1928 in Miller.

Henderson's family remembers him as a lawyer who was willing to take on the cases he believed in, and sometimes did so for a paltry payment. A big man with a big voice, Henderson possessed unflappable conviction. Those who met him, never forgot him, for better or for worse, his son said Sunday.

"He was a man of conviction, period. He did what he believed in, no ifs, ands or buts about it," John Henderson said. "People would pay with chickens or vegetables or nothing or never."

Henderson fought in the Korean Conflict and received a diploma from the University of South Dakota law school just after entering basic training. His experiences in the war gave him post-traumatic stress disorder and stayed with him for decades, his wife said.

"He was an officer and as a good officer you should take your men out and bring them back and they didn't get back," Norma Henderson said. "He witnessed atrocities, riots, and he spent his life struggling with it."

Henderson served from 1951 to 1953, earning the United Nations Medal, the Korean Service Medal and a Bronze Star.

Upon returning from the war, Henderson practiced law in Pennington County from 1953 to 1974 in both Rapid City and Hill City. He was elected to the state Senate for two terms in the 1960s and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1970.

He originally had a house on Argyle Street in Rapid City, but moved to Hill City in the early 1970s.

Henderson's career culminated when he was elected circuit judge in 1974 and to the South Dakota Supreme Court in 1978, where he served for 15 years. His family described him as a frequent dissenter on the bench.

Four times, his dissent in a case was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. His family identifies those cases as a career highlight, in addition to helping push through South Dakota's first minimum wage law as a state senator.

His greatest accomplishment, however, according to his family, was the eight children he raised along with his wife, Norma.

After retirement, Henderson spent time on his ranch southeast of Rapid City. He had a particular fondness for Appaloosa horses.

During his final days at the VA medical center in Sheridan, Henderson was afflicted with Alzheimers, but the staff at the VA eased his condition, according to family members.

His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Hill City. Visitation will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, with a rosary at 5 p.m. The family will bury Henderson at the Hill City Cemetery with military rites.

Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or

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(3) Comments

  1. twinsister44
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    twinsister44 - December 31, 2012 9:01 am
    RIP Frank you were a great person and I will always remember the many stories you told me at all the church meals
  2. spurious
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    spurious - December 31, 2012 7:33 am
    RIP- Frank. You always gave people the benefit of the doubt and stood behind people you believed in. You will be missed.
  3. deadbroke
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    deadbroke - December 31, 2012 5:40 am
    Judge Henderson, it was my pleasure and honor to have known you. Thank You for your work, especially on behalf of disabled veterans. You left the world a better place with your accomplishments!
    Bless You.
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