Barbara Higdon 1930-2011

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Alumni, Press Release

January 9, 2012

Barbara Higdon 1930-2011

We would like to invite you to share in the life of Barbara Higdon here.

Barbara Joan McFarlane was born in Independence, Missouri, on May 18, 1930, the oldest child of Robert Lyle and Ruth Chapple McFarlane. She died after a two-year battle with breast cancer on December 30, 2011. On June 11, 1950, she married William T. Higdon and the couple had three children: Miriam Elizabeth (1952), Ruth Elaine (1955), and Richard Terril (1957). She is survived by her husband Bill, daughters Beth Higdon (John Funke) and Ruth Higdon (Peter Hackett), and son Rich Higdon (Barbara), grandsons Paul Higdon, Alex Higdon, Kevin Higdon, Tim Higdon, and Dennis Higdon. She is also survived by her brothers Richard McFarlane, Larry McFarlane (Amy), sister Janet Gilberts and aunt Shirley Brizendine (John) as well as numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

Although family was very important to her, the demographics listed above do not begin to encapsulate the themes of Barbara’s life: issues of peace and social justice, church and spirituality, and above all, education. Together these themes weave a tapestry of a life well lived.

She attended public school in Independence and Northeast High School in Kansas City, from which she graduated valedictorian in 1947. While in high school, she was one of two Kansas City-area high school students who participated in the Junior Town Meeting of the Air, two-way broadcast dialog with two students in Great Britain about education.

After high school, she attended Graceland College where she soon became a student leader active in campus life, serving as president of the Crescents (a women’s service organization), writing for student publications and serving on the publications board, and acting in college plays. She protested against the recognized student social groups to which only invited students were included. She majored in speech communications and received the gold seal for scholarship at her graduation with an Associate’s degree in 1949. After attending one year on scholarship at the University of Kansas, she married Bill and transferred to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she earned her BA in 1951, her MA in 1952, and her PhD in1961.

The Higdons moved to Houston, Texas, in 1956 and Barbara became a faculty member at Texas Southern University. At that time, Texas Southern was the only Texas state institution where African-American young people could get a college education. Because Barbara’s service at Texas Southern coincided with the civil rights movement, she was faced with the additional challenges of counseling students about the possible consequences of their participation in even the non-violent protests of the time. She remained particularly proud of this work throughout her life.

Barbara also continued her work with the RLDS (now Community of Christ) church. She had been baptized in the Englewood congregation of that church at the age of 8 and was active all her life. She eventually became one of the first women to be ordained to the office of high priest when the church began ordaining women in 1984. During her Texas years, she was editor of the University Bulletin (the church’s publication for college students) and a frequent contributor to all church publications.

In 1963, the Higdons moved to Lamoni, Iowa, when both Barbara and Bill accepted teaching positions (she replacing Tess Morgan in the Language and Literature department and he replacing Roy Mortimer in the Math and Science department) at Graceland College. Barbara taught at Graceland until 1975, where she inspired generations of students with her honesty, compassion, and intellectual rigor. Upon leaving Graceland, she became Dean of the School for Continuing Education and later Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty for Park College (now Park University). She served in that capacity until 1984 when she became president of Graceland, the first woman to serve in that capacity on a non-acting basis. She retired from that position in 1991. In 1997 Barbara and Bill moved to the San Diego area where she trained and served as a mediator.

In 2000, Graceland, by then a university, called again and she returned as provost. During her tenure as provost, she led in the establishment of the RLDS Theological Seminary.

During the height of her professional activity she was proud to have served in a variety of capacities. She was founding member of the John Whitmer society and served as its president; she was an active member of the Mormon History Association and served as its president. She served on the RLDS church history commission and on the church hymn committee and authored one hymn. She chaired the board of the Iowa Peace Institute and of the Iowa First in the Nation in Education Foundation. She was also appointed the Director of Peace for the Community of Christ church and established the annual Peace Colloquy and facilitated the first Peace Prize awarded to Jehan Sadat, widow of Anwar Sadat. In 1995 she received the distinguished service award from Graceland University Alumni Association.

Also throughout this time, she traveled extensively. She visited Africa and India with Bill during his years of service to the RLDS church where her cultural sensitivities provided ministry, especially for women. She helped open Graceland’s doors to students from the former Warsaw Pact countries and served for years on the board of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius International Foundation in Bulgaria. At a conference on international peace in Helsinki, Finland, she delivered a major address on the role of education in promoting peace. She also visited Russia and the People’s Republic of China. By the end of her life, she had visited all the continents except Antarctica.

After retiring to an acreage outside Lamoni, Barbara delighted in the antics of her Great Pyrenees dogs Kate and Dolly, and helped raise their alpaca herd. She and Bill continued to enjoy the associations and friendships they had formed over the years and continued to travel, especially via cruise ship. Barbara was an avid reader all her life, particularly enjoying mysteries.

In 2006 Graceland called again and she joined the Board of Trustees where she served on the Academic Affairs committee, a position she held until the end of her life.

She faced her final illness with the same courage, grace, and uncompromising honesty with which she lived the rest of her life, and her final moments were peacefully spent with her family. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to either Graceland University or Outreach International.

Graceland University is pleased to announce a seminar on Peace to be held May 18, 2012, on the Lamoni campus. It will honor Dr. Barbara J. Higdon – Professor and President Emerita – and include a memorial celebration. We invite you to reserve the date and come and participate.

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