Brother Henry Hardeman is a remarkable man who has dedicated his life to spreading kindness wherever he goes. He has faced many challenges throughout his life, but his resilience, strength, and unwavering commitment to serving others have made him a beloved figure in the Franklin community.
Born and raised in Franklin, Brother Henry has been a witness to its many changes. He attended Johnson Elementary School, a segregated elementary school in the 1950s, and later attended Franklin High School, his freshman year being the first year FHS was desegregated. Despite the racial tensions of the time, Henry stayed out of the fray by playing the bass drum in the high school band. Notes Henry, “It was being a part of the Franklin Band that we got used to one another. When you're in the band, it doesn't matter what color you are, you're all working together to make music."
During his high school years, Henry worked as a cafeteria worker in the hospital on West Main Street, obtaining special permission due to his young age. He continued to work there for 19 years, only leaving when the hospital relocated.
Henry felt called to ministry in the 1970s and attended seminary school to become a minister, earning him the name “Brother Henry.” He started a Vacation Bible School for local children which continued for many years and started street preaching as a way to help the Franklin community.
In the mid-1980s, Brother Henry began working at the Franklin Theatre, a job he held for a total of 25 years. During his time there, he became a treasured fixture in the community, greeting everyone who came through the doors and making them feel welcome. But his work at the theatre was just one aspect of his community service. He was also the "Spirit Coach" for the Franklin High School Band and the BGA Baseball and Basketball teams, imparting pearls of wisdom from his life to the younger generations.
Always quick with a story or a piece of advice, Brother Henry once asked the FHS Band to “be butter” while en route to the BOA Grand Nationals. He spoke of how great butter is when it melts and spreads all over and likened butter to warmth, love and kindness. He asked the team to "be butter" - to be warm and spread love and kindness to each other and their competitors; putting aside differences and working together. This lesson has become a cornerstone of Brother Henry's philosophy, and he believes that no act of kindness is ever too small. He encourages everyone to “be butter” for others and for themselves.
Now in his 70s, Brother Henry faces health challenges due to diabetes and relies on an electric wheelchair to get around. But this setback hasn’t dampened his spirits or his commitment to “spreading butter.” “Now I have to sit but I still get out and people watch, get acquainted with visitors and residents, joke, laugh, have fun and make them feel at home.” Brother Henry notices the number of past visitors who have now become residents and how people are more willing to stop and chat or offer a hug. Brother Henry can oftentimes be found “spreading butter” at his favorite Franklin haunts - Merridee’s, McCreary’s, Puckett’s, and the Visitor Center. On nice days, he can often be found sitting along Main Street listening to the “best street musicians anywhere.”
When asked about the changes to Franklin since his childhood, Brother Henry is quick to laugh and quips “It is a bit different now from back in the day but change is good.” He notices positive changes in attitudes and downtown Franklin itself, stating, "I am glad to see the improvements and people are beginning to recognize and save our community."
Despite facing numerous challenges throughout his life, Brother Henry remains a shining example of what it means to live a life of purpose and service. He is a testament to the resilience and strength of the Franklin community, having lived through, and contributed to, its evolution over the years. Through his work at the Franklin Theatre, his ministry, and his spirit coaching, Brother Henry has left an indelible mark on the community of Franklin and touched the lives of countless individuals and continues to do so, spreading his message of kindness and love like butter.