Celebrating Women's History Month in the WNCC: Juanita "Nita" Tillman Henderson

March 23, 2023

By: Jim Pyatt, WNCC Archivist & Historian

Juanita "Nita" Tillman Henderson (May 19, 1928 - May 7, 2019)

The late Nita Henderson provided leadership at all levels of the United Methodist Church in many ways, most significantly as the first woman to Chair the WNC Conference Council on Ministries, a position which she held from 1980 to 1988. In this capacity she led the planning and implementation of numerous programs and ministries which continue to be thriving in the WNC Conference. Born in Surrency County, Georgia, Nita began her ministry in the church by serving as the pianist at Surrency Methodist Church at age 7. The church was central to her life, and she served capably from that young age forward.

An alumna of Georgia State Teachers College (now Georgia Southern University) and the University of North Carolina, she was an educator. “Following several teaching jobs in Georgia, she moved to Charlotte to teach physical education and coach the girls’ basketball team at Central High School. A life-long Methodist, Nita soon began attending Charlotte’s First Methodist Church where she met a young attorney, Charles J. Henderson,” whom she married in 1950.” (Juanita T. Henderson "Nita" (kennethpoeservices.com))

As a member at First UMC, Charlotte, she served in virtually every role in the life of the congregation. In addition to serving as the first woman to Chair the WNC Conference Council on Ministries, she also served in the WNC Conference as a member of the Board of Managers of The Methodist Home (now Aldersgate) from 1983-92, member of the Conference Committee on Nominations 1988-92, member of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration 1988-92, member of the Conference Board of Pensions 1996-2004 (serving as President 2000-04, and as a Trustee of the Eugene M. Cole Foundation 1994-2016 (serving at various times as Chair, Vice-Chair, or Secretary). She also served in the late 1960s as President of the Bethlehem Center in Charlotte.

With regard to the greater church, Nita served as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference in 1984, 1988, and 1992. From 1989 to 1994 she served on the Board for the United Methodist Publishing House.

“At her core, Nita was a faithful giver who contributed more than she took in every walk of life. She also knew how and when to be tough, an original ‘Steel Magnolia’ who could turn up the heat if the situation called for it. Nita will be remembered by all who knew her as someone who lived her life with zeal and a faithful, steadfast determination to make things better in ways large and small for her family, her friends and her faith.” (Juanita T. Henderson "Nita" (kennethpoeservices.com))

Be sure to read the other biographies written by WNCC Archivist & Historian Jim Pyatt:

Rev. Dr. Nancy Burgis Rankin, the first woman in our conference to serve as Senior Pastor of a church with more than 1000 members.

Roberta Blackwell, served in the Charlotte District were as District Director of Church and Society 1979-84, member of the District Committee on the District Superintendent 1980-93, and as a member of the Charlotte District Trustees 2010-12.

Rev. Dr. Arnetta E. Beverly, the first African-American woman to serve as Director of Nurture and Ethnic Ministries, to serve as a District Superintendent in the WNC Conference, and to serve as a Director of Connectional Ministries in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Rev. Dr. James Walter Ferree, Sr., involved in realigning the North Carolina-Virginia Conference into what is now the three separate North Carolina, Western North Carolina, and Virginia Conferences.

Rev. Cecil Harvey Marcellus, Jr., the first African-American elected to the Reidsville City Council, where he served for three full terms and part of a fourth term.

Dr. David Dallas Jones, the president of Bennett College from 1926-1955.

Rev. William Hornbuckle, a Native American ordained Deacon in 1928 and Elder in 1931.

Daphine Strickland, part of the Task Force that led to the organization of Triad Native American Church, the first Native American congregation in our Conference outside of Cherokee.

Thomas Queen, the Director of the Cherokee Mission from 1973 until his death in 1992.

Jeremiah Wolfe, the first Native American to be elected a delegate to General Conference from the WNCC in 1976.

Rev. David Ortigoza, the Director of Hispanic and Latino Ministries for the SEJ in 2003.

Rev. Diana Wingeier-Rayo, the first Hispanic/Latina woman to be received into full clergy membership in the WNC Conference.

Raul Adriano, the first known person of Hispanic/Latino heritage to be elected by The WNCC to serve as a Lay Delegate to General Conference.

Rev. Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, a key figure at the Board of Missions Office of The WNCC in 1961.

Rev. Dr. Abraham Kim, the first Asian-American to be elected as a clergy delegate to Jurisdictional Conference from the WNC Conference.

Rev. Karen Miyoshi Kagiyama, the first Asian-American women to be ordained an Elder in the WNCC.

In Muk Kim, the first Asian-American to be elected as a delegate (clergy or lay) to Jurisdictional Conference from the WNC Conference.

Rev. M. B. Lee McCrary, the first woman to become a full clergy member of the Western North Carolina Conference. 

Rev. Dolores Barus Queen, the first woman to serve as District Superintendent in the Western NC Conference.

Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer, the first (and to date, the only) woman to serve as Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mrs. Jettie Morrison, a key figure in the Women's Society of Christian Service and the integration of The United Methodist Church in 1968.

Bishop L. Scott Allen (May 4, 1918-September 18, 2004), the first (and to date, the only) African-American to serve as Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mrs. Effie Miller (September 17, 1930-September 1, 2008), a leader in the Western North Carolina Conference and the United Methodist Church, especially with regard to the United Methodist Women.

The Rev. Dr. J. C. Peters (July 10, 1925- July 2, 1998)the first African-American to serve as a District Superintendent in the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mr. Clarence Winchester,  a leader in the North Carolina Conference (Central Jurisdiction) and in the WNC Conference.

Dr. Isaac Miller (September 26, 1920-November 1, 2008), a leader in Higher Education and in the United Methodist Church.

#BeUMC Personal Reflections