Graceland University President Emeritus William T. “Bill” Higdon ’49 passed away peacefully on November 18, 2021. Higdon’s tenure as president ran from 1966 through 1974, then again from 1992 through 1997.
Higdon’s contributions to the University were significant and he made a substantive impact on campus life. He oversaw development of Graceland’s School of Nursing and its campus in Independence, Missouri, and introduced the “Bear Pit” sessions of open public dialogue with students. He also oversaw the launch of Graceland’s first master’s program and the purchase of SkillPath Seminars.
“Graceland is fortunate to be so closely associated with the Higdon name,” said Patricia H. Draves, Graceland President. “Bill was incredibly generous with his time, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had to visit with Bill and receive his counsel. His wisdom, vision, and passion for Graceland set a high bar for university presidents, not just here, but throughout the region.”
Higdon has the distinction of being the only Graceland president to serve immediately following both his father and his wife as president of the University. His father, Earl Higdon, served as Graceland’s president prior to his first term in 1966, and his wife, Barbara Higdon, served as Graceland’s president prior to his second term in 1992. Bill was granted president emeritus status in 2004 by Graceland’s board of trustees. His daughter, Beth, currently serves as Graceland’s Executive Director for Institutional Effectiveness.
After they got married in 1950, both Bill and Barbara joined Graceland as faculty members in 1963. They were an active part of the Lamoni community and welcomed many families into their home, mentored young couples, and participated in church life. After his first term as Graceland’s president, Higdon accepted the call to become a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles in Community of Christ (then the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). His ministry took him around the world, and he participated in several major changes in the church, notably operationalizing the ordination of women and the design of the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri. During his time at the church, he and three colleagues founded Outreach International, a nonprofit with a mission of providing people in underdeveloped countries and regions a methodology to work together as a community to meet the challenges of chronic poverty.
After retiring from active ministry in 1992, he returned to Graceland for five years before his retirement in 1997. That year, the University completed an extensive renovation of its signature administration building, which was renamed Higdon Administration Building in honor of Bill, Barbara, and Bill’s father, Earl.
Higdon Administration Building
Barbara and Bill were married for 61 years before she passed away in 2011. The couple had three children, Miriam Elizbeth Higdon (John Funke), Ruth Elaine Higdon (Peter Hackett), and Richard Terril Higdon (Debra), five grandchildren, Paul, Alex, (Claudia Tang), Kevin, Timothy, and Scott (Emily) and three great-grandchildren. In 2013, Bill gained a bonus family when he married Phyllis Johnson, who had two children Erik (Robyn) and Sara Kenney and six grandchildren. He and Phyllis were able to travel extensively and enjoyed their lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota before Bill died on November 18, 2021. He is preceded in death by his parents, his first wife, and all three of his sisters. He is survived by his second wife Phyllis, his children and bonus children and all eleven (both bonus and biological) grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.
The Graceland flag on campus will fly at half-staff this week to honor Bill’s memory. Memorials can be sent to either Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa 50140, or Outreach International, 112 W 18th St, Kansas City, MO 64108.