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When Luanne Lee returned to work on a rainy day earlier this spring, her feet were soaking wet.
She had just trekked through an ankle-high pool of water to move her car from a flooding parking lot at the Riverwind Casino in Norman, Oklahoma, where she worked.
Soon after making it inside, she realized her co-worker who was walking alongside her, Jeremy C. Hendley, had disappeared into the downpour.
More than 30 minutes later, he returned — bearing a dry pair of shoes and socks to help her get through the shift.
“I’ll never forget that,” she said. “That was just how kind-hearted he was — always thinking of others.”
Whether it was as a husband, friend, co-worker, student, or dog dad, Hendley always found selfless ways to solve others’ problems, according to friends and family.
Hendley, a first-year student at Harvard Law School, died by suicide on Sept. 2. He was 35.
Born June 27, 1987, in Ada, Oklahoma, Hendley developed a passion for legal studies as an undergraduate at East Central University, where he graduated in 2015. According to Christine Pappas, one of Hendley’s professors and mentors at ECU, he was a perfectionist and a straight-A student, motivated by a desire to help his wife gain American citizenship.
“It was a joy to me to hear him talk so passionately about wanting to serve,” Pappas said. “Becoming an attorney was his highest goal.”
Hendley’s wife, Alma A. Hendley, was unaware for years that she might be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects from deportation some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country at a young age.
Jeremy Hendley supported her through a decade-long legal process that eventually allowed her to become a U.S. citizen.
“Together we researched opportunities available to me and he eventually learned about the DACA program,” Alma Hendley wrote in a statement to The Crimson.
Even after enrolling in DACA, Alma Hendley said her path to citizenship left her in a constant “legal limbo” because of the “excruciating” expectations for applicants.
“I had to do a lot of the legal hurdles that many Dreamers have to go through,” she said in an interview. “Jeremy was there for all of that.”
After many setbacks and delays — including record wait times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — Alma Hendley was granted U.S. citizenship on December 13, 2021.
“Without Jeremy as advocate and as a sponsor for me I would not have my U.S. Citizenship,” Alma Hendley wrote.
The two were married for 12 years.
“A lot of our friends sometimes would say, ‘Gosh, you guys have been together for a long time. How do you make it work?’” she said. “I think part of it was just learning to grow together and change together.”
Alma Hendley added that her husband’s love extended to Louis, an 11-year-old white standard poodle they adopted as a rescue.
“That was his baby, and he would do anything for him,” Alma Hendley said. “What he loved was spending time with Louis, talking about Louis, showing pictures to his employees about him.”
Growing up, Hendley developed a passion for card games and the intellectual challenge they presented. After college, he worked as a dealer for the Chickasaw Nation’s Riverwind Casino, where he was soon promoted to train new employees.
Over 16 years working for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce, Hendley mentored many who went through the casino’s training program.
“If you go through training, you’re going to meet Jeremy,” recalled Tia Q. Le, a co-worker Hendley trained when she first began working at the casino three years ago.
Le said she remembers Jeremy as “a very good dresser,” a “kind soul” who “never got frustrated at any of the students,” and as “hands down, the best dealer I’ve ever seen.”
“He was brilliant — you know the minute you see him,” Le said. “You have to know, mentally, a lot of math. You have to do it really quickly. And he was so fast.”
“I was so lucky to have him as a teacher. I don’t think I would have been as successful as I was without him,” she added.
Luanne Lee, who worked alongside Hendley in the Chickasaw Nation’s training department for five years, said he was known at work as “a good person, but also the trainer — the person to go to, the person that knew it all.”
Hendley was put in charge of managing Blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em, Jackpot Hold ’Em, Craps, and Roulette, among other table games at the casino, according to Lee.
“Every game that the Chickasaw Nation trains, he knew it — even poker,” Lee said.
Hendley was “like one of my own kids,” she added.
Co-workers also remember Jeremy Hendley’s sense of humor and knowledgeability.
“The Riverwind Casino community loved him,” Lee said. “He was the backup for everything: ‘Go to Jeremy. Let’s ask Jeremy. He’ll know.’ Everyone just loved him.”
Attending Harvard Law School was Jeremy Hendley’s ultimate dream, according to his friends and family. When he learned he was accepted, Hendley was “the happiest person in the world,” Lee said.
“I got to see him every day with a smile from ear to ear on his face, walking five feet off the ground,” Lee said. “He was the proudest and the happiest person that I’ve ever seen.”
Brian T. Broderick, a first-year Law School student who was in Jeremy Hendley’s section, said he first met Hendley online over the summer via LinkedIn and Slack.
“I got the sense that he was friendly,” Broderick said. “I got the sense that he was really looking forward to coming to Harvard and being part of the HLS community. Nothing but positive.”
When the two finally met on campus during the Law School’s first-year orientation, they instantly bonded.
“I really got the impression that he was someone who was very giving and very selfless — that he was at HLS to do things that were bigger than himself,” Broderick said.
“He didn’t seem like someone who was into this for his own goals or someone who just wants to line his own pockets,” he added. “He really wanted to make a difference.”
After he was accepted to Harvard Law School last spring, Hendley set his eyes on a career as an immigration attorney.
“He really admired that Harvard had a DACA clinic, and that was something that he was looking forward to doing,” Alma Hendley said. “He went out of his way to help people, and I know people say that a lot about their loved ones, but Jeremy was an on-call guy all the time.”
Pappas said she remembered Hendley’s eagerness to mentor her students at East Central University after he was accepted to HLS, offering to help them on the LSAT and seek out letters of recommendation.
“He was 100 percent helpful and positive all the time,” she said. “Couldn’t wait to help other people.”
—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.
— Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at email@example.com.
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