Ralph Hendrix, who developed and formalized the South Carolina Department of Education's statewide school bus transportation operations, died Monday. He was 97.
Hendrix was just three weeks shy of celebrating his 98th birthday.
He joined the department after serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II from 1943-1945, after which time he continued to serve as a naval reserve officer and rose to the rank of commander. He previously obtained his undergraduate degree from Clemson University in 1941 before completing Midshipman School with the rank of ensign at Notre Dame.
He was named assistant director of transportation in 1953, two years after receiving his master's degree from the University of South Carolina.
Hendrix was promoted to director of transportation in 1957 and is credited with transforming the small and disorganized system run by local school districts into a statewide network of school buses owned, operated and maintained by the department of education.
Donald Tudor, who became state transportation director in 1991 when Hendrix retired, called him a "gentleman" and "a wonderful leader and friend to many in the school transportation industry across the country."
"He was the person that took a badly disorganized 1950s school transportation program and converted it to an efficient operation second to none," Tudor told STN. "Under his guidance, the South Carolina school transportation program became a program that was proud to equally serve every student with the highest level of service."
Hendrix oversaw 6,400 school buses, 44 maintenance and 5,700 school bus drivers when he retired. South Carolina Department of Education continues to be the only state agency nationwide to manage all aspects of student transportation, though the fleet now numbers about 5,600 and is considered to be the oldest by average age in the U.S. amid decades of under-funding by the state legislature.
He is survived by his brother F.E. Hendrix and his son Dr. Ralph Hendrix, Jr. from his first marriage. He is also survived by second wife Sara, stepsons John B. Copeland, Marshall Copeland and wife Lena, and Lee Martin and wife Georgia, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
A funeral service is planned for Friday, March 9 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Memorials may be made to Pathway Hospice, 3231 Sunset Blvd., West Columbia, SC 29169 or to Shandon United Methodist Church, 3407 Devine Street, Columbia, SC 29205.
Memories and condolences may be shared at ShivesFuneralHome.com.
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