W. H. Heckman was president of six conferences and two union conferences in the United States during more than 30 years of administrative leadership.
William Henry Heckman was of Dutch parentage. He was born on January 17, 1869, and raised in rural Overisel, south of Zeeland and Holland in Michigan. His parents were Hendrik “Henry” and Sarina “Sarah” Renken (or Renker) Heckman or Hekman. William became a painter by trade. On August 5, 1895, he married Anna McKinnon at Casnovia, Michigan, with William Ostrander the officiating minister.1
William began his studies at Battle Creek College in 1892, though it is not clear from available sources when or whether he graduated.2 The earliest published reports of his ministry come from the West Michigan Conference, created when the Michigan Conference divided in 1902. The conference sent Heckman to Battle Creek in 1904 to serve as assistant pastor of the large Dime Tabernacle and there “he carried a large share of the pastoral duties,” according to a fellow minister in the conference. He was ordained in 1906 at Otsego, Michigan.3
A Ministry of Administration
In 1907 the General Conference Committee voted to send Heckman across the Atlantic Ocean to serve as president of the South England Conference.4 Such a move had the potential to alter his entire career path. Instead, Heckman chose to remain in the United States and accept the presidency of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. It was a community of 1,000 baptized members scattered among 27 organized churches.5 Heckman held the office for five years and then transferred to the presidency of the Florida Conference for another five years, 1913 through 1917.6 This was followed by two presidencies that lasted only about a year each, first in the New Jersey Conference (1918-1919) and then the Ohio Conference (1919-1920).7
Heckman’s departure from Ohio was prompted by a call to greater responsibilities as president of the Southeastern Union Conference comprising the Carolina, Georgia, Cumberland and Florida Conferences, with office headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The aggregate of baptized members was approximately 5,200 individuals among 123 churches.8 Within the union territory there were 60 elementary church schools, one third of them for Black students, and three academies (secondary schools)–Graysville Academy (Tennessee), Flat Rock Academy (Georgia) and Winyah Lake Academy (Florida).9 The union presidency brought with it the responsibility for service on several institutional boards. Heckman was a member of the boards of Oakwood Junior College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Alabama, and Washington Missionary College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Maryland.10 He was president of the board of Southern Junior College (now Southern Adventist University).11 At Florida Sanitarium in Orlando (now AdventHealth Orlando), the largest Adventist medical institution in the Southeastern Union, Heckman was first a member of the board and then president (1925-1932).12
Heckman remained in Chattanooga as Southeastern Union president until 1932, when the Great Depression prompted a merger with the Southern Union Conference to save administrative costs. After a brief term as president of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference (1932-1933), Heckman moved to New York City and the challenge of leadership in an entirely different context as president of the Greater New York Conference.13 In his conference session report of April 1936, Heckman observed that the population of the Greater New York Conference territory was 8,448,704, which included more Italians than the city of Rome, more Irish than those in Dublin and an eighth of all the Jews in the world. He reported record baptisms, bringing the total membership of the conference to 3,530 at the end of 1935. Tithe receipts had increased, offerings for foreign missions were at record levels and seven churches had wiped out their building debts. These results attracted commendation from church officials and within six months Heckman was once again elected to a union presidency, this time the Atlantic Union Conference in mid-1936. The union office was located in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, as was the campus of Atlantic Union College, the institution of higher learning that Heckman was now tasked with overseeing as board chair.14
A Fateful Trip Abroad
In 1938 Heckman was invited to visit Section II of the Central European Division, a region that included the Arabic Middle East.15 In some instances such trips were arranged as a prelude to an appointment to the territory. Heckman felt unwell at the time of his departure but believed the sea voyage would be beneficial for his health. He planned a tour of six months throughout the region. He travelled to Marseilles, Naples, Cairo and Alexandria, then arrived at Beirut feeling dreadfully ill. Local church leaders took him to the American University Hospital where the diagnosis was dire and arrangements were made for his immediate return to America. However, he sank rapidly into a coma and passed away on December 27, 1938 at the age of 69.16 An autopsy revealed a virulent hepatic tumor that had spread to his lungs.17
The veteran leader’s body was taken back to Massachusetts for a funeral service and interment at Eastwood Cemetery, Lancaster. At the service held in the South Lancaster church, the presidents of the local conferences of the Atlantic Union Conference gathered to honor their colleague in administration, as did Malcolm N. Campbell, General Conference Vice President for North America, and Howard J. Detwiler, president of the Columbia Union Conference, who preached the sermon.18
Anna Heckman was blessed with a long life although her final years were restricted to a wheelchair. She passed away at Silver Spring, Maryland, on January 22, 1961, at the age of 95 and was laid to rest alongside her husband.19
Battle Creek College Record Book. Adventist Digital Library. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-366632/battle-creek-college-record.
Campbell, M. N. “W.H. Heckman obituary.” ARH, March 23, 1939.
“Conference Proceedings.” West Michigan Herald, March 14, 1906.
General Conference Committee Minutes. General Conference Archives. Accessed May 22, 2021. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/Forms/AllFolders.aspx.
Jones, J. K. “A Report of the Greater New York Conference Session.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, May 6, 1936.
Nelson, W. A. “News Notes: Appreciation Social.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, September 9, 1936.
Osborn, John W. “Anna McKinnon Heckman obituary.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, March 20, 1961.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1904-1938.
Taylor, C. L. “William Henry Heckman obituary.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, February 8, 1939.
“William Henry Heckman.” FamilySearch. Accessed May 7, 2021. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/93Z6-8K3.
“William Henry Heckman,” FamilySearch, accessed May 7, 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/93Z6-8K3.↩
Battle Creek College Record Book, Adventist Digital Library, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.adventistdigitallibrary.org/adl-366632/battle-creek-college-record. The record book ends in 1893.↩
“News and Notes,” West Michigan Herald, November 16, 1904, 4; M.N. Campbell, “W.H. Heckman obituary,” ARH, March 23, 1939, 21-22; “Conference Proceedings,” West Michigan Herald, March 14, 1906, 2.↩
General Conference Committee, May 22, 1907, General Conference Archives, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1907.pdf.↩
“Eastern Pennsylvania Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1908), 38-39.↩
A. Lee Bennett, Jr., “Florida Conference,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed October 27, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=69AP.↩
James (Jim) Arthur and Joyce Ann (Keslake) Greene, “New Jersey Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Inc.,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed October 27, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=F9VA; Heidi A. Shoemaker, “Ohio Conference,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed October 27, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=89WK.↩
“Southeastern Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1921), 62.↩
“J.A. Tucker, “Enrolment and Attendance at the Close of Second Semester, Elementary Schools, January 20, 1920,” Field Tidings, March 24, 1920, 2; “Institutions in the Southeastern Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1921), 66.↩
“Oakwood Junior College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1921), 163-164; “Washington Missionary College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1921), 172.↩
“Southern Junior College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1921), 169.↩
“Florida Sanitarium,” in Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, 1921-1932 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald).↩
Rebecca Burton, “Arkansas-Louisiana Conference,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, accessed October 27, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=38W5; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. edition (1996), s.v. “Greater New York Conference.”↩
J.K. Jones, “A Report of the Greater New York Conference,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, May 6, 1936, 1-2; W.A. Nelson, “News Notes: Appreciation Social,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, September 9, 1936, 2, 6.↩
Campbell, “W.H. Heckman obituary.”↩
C.L. Taylor, “William Henry Heckman obituary,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, February 8, 1939, 6↩
George W. Miller to H.M. Walton, March 30, 1939, W.H. Heckman, Secretariat Missionary Files, RG 21, Record 45977, December 31, 1953, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, MD.↩
Taylor, “William Henry Heckman obituary”; Campbell, “W.H. Heckman obituary.”↩
John W. Osborn, “Anna McKinnon Heckman,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, March 20, 1961, 9.↩