Four Eulogies: Chris Gehrz, Diana Magnuson, Fred Van Geest, and John Lawyer on Stacey Hunter Hecht

Last Wednesday, a week after political science professor Stacey Hunter Hecht lost her battle with cancer, the Bethel community gathered in the Seminary Chapel to celebrate her life. On behalf of our fellow AC 2nd-ers in the Poli Sci department, we’re honored to publish the brief eulogies shared at that service by four of Stacey’s colleagues.

Chris Gehrz, Professor of History

As much as anyone I know, Stacey Hecht enjoyed a good doomsday scenario. For example, more than a few times, she tried to get me to think through our fall-back plan in case Bethel, well, went under. God forbid, but…

Stacey Hunter Hecht and Chris Gehrz, 2008
Stacey and Chris at Bethel’s 2008 Commencement

If things at our place of employment went south, Stacey intended to buy a bed and breakfast — and to hire me as the chef. The campus itself, she decided, would become a new retirement property for Presbyterian Homes: Valentine Shores.

It’s not the best plan that her fertile imagination conjured… but it always made me smile. And such moments were typical of our friendship. As our hall’s resident Presby-Lutheran, I think Stacey felt some kind of moral imperative to check the naive excesses of my Pietist optimism — but also to sweeten every reality check with humor.

But while Stacey liked to think of herself as perpetually seeing the glass half empty, she actually lived life in profound hope. Not hope as some kind of world-denying, wait-for-heaven sedative, but hope as a stubborn determination to leave Creation a bit less fallen than she found it. “I like Political Science,” she wrote in a 2009 note on Facebook, “because it suggests to me that it might be possible to fix some of the messes of this world.” As a bumper sticker on her office put it, she believed in “Just politics, not just politics.”

Most of all, Stacey lived in the hope that what we do as teachers, mentors, and advisors matters — that the impact of our lives on those of our students is not negligible. That even on our worst days, faced with forty blank stares in an 8am American Politics class, God gives us the potential to help students see him, themselves, and others anew, to hear a calling, to be changed and to change the world…

As one of those students, Chris LaTondresse, put it last week: “[Stacey’s] legacy lives on, embodied in thousands of former students who, like me, are better citizens and better Christians as a result of her influence in our lives.”

So while we’ve reached what for many of us is a doomsday scenario, and there is no fall-back plan, there is laughter. There is legacy. And there is hope.

Peace to be to Stacey’s memory.

See also Chris’ essay on his friendship with Stacey, posted last Thursday at his personal blog.

Diana Magnuson, Professor of History

It is an incredible privilege to be a part of this service today.

We all have stories to tell about our experiences with, and what we’ve learned from, Stacey. As the university archivist I urge you to take the time to write these memories down. If you’d rather record your memories through audio, I can arrange for that too. Send your memories to me and I will collect them for the archive. In so doing, our permanent record of Stacey’s years at Bethel will reflect a personal and vibrant account of her work and legacy.

Stacey arrived at Bethel in 1997, and for most of those years, our offices were next door to each other. Stacey was not a quiet talker, so without even really trying, I learned a lot from her. Without question she is one of the most energetic and engaged colleagues I’ve ever known. Her laugh is indescribable.

But what I want to share with you today is something I experienced with Stacey over this past year, away from Bethel and our offices. For me it is profound, and I am forever changed by it.

Simply put, Stacey invited me in, to bear witness to her suffering.

Intellectually I know of the significance of bearing witness to the experiences of others. I do this every day with my students as we read, discuss, analyze, and are challenged by historical primary sources. We spend time with the voices of women and men from across the centuries, lives that speak to us from the past, and testify to pain and struggle and hope.

Ulrich, A Midwife's TalePerhaps my all time favorite historical monograph is about an 18th century midwife from Maine named Martha Ballard. She left a diary and it survived the centuries. There are so many reasons I love this book, but I realize now that what I appreciate most about Martha’s story is how her entire documented life testifies to the quiet way she bore witness to the suffering of her family and neighbors. The suffering that the pain of childbirth, epidemics, death, rape, chronic disease, and even murder, visited upon her family and neighbors, became Martha’s. They relied upon her not only for her medical skill, but also for her willingness to enter into the space of their suffering, and bear witness to something they could not change.

Stacey invited me in, to her sacred space of suffering. She wrestled intensely with God over why he would allow her to be taken from her family, her work, and her community. Many of us have struggled and continue to struggle with this question. I do not know the answer. What I do know is, having believed, Stacey was marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the greatest witness, testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children. Stacey was God’s child. She shared in his sufferings, and will now share in the incomparable glory promised to God’s children. (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:16-18)

Fred Van Geest, Professor of Political Science

I met Stacey for the first time about nine years ago, when I interviewed at Bethel. Immediately, I found her to be welcoming, kind, generous, and friendly. It didn’t take long for me to see that she was highly devoted to Bethel, and especially the Political Science program. For almost two decades, she was a pillar of the department, providing a crucial link between faculty who were about to retire and new ones who would soon join her.

Stacey was one of the main reasons I came here. I was impressed by her faith, her professionalism and her (many) obvious abilities. At that time already I could also see her incredibly high degree of collegiality. I knew this was someone I wanted to work with.

But, the word collegial doesn’t really go nearly far enough to describe Stacey. She took it to another level. For example, she was a truly a humble, hard-working, servant to us all . She was protective of our department and of every member in it. She was always standing up for us, working tirelessly on behalf. One of my strongest memories early on, was when significant tasks or challenges would come up, she would something like “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it”. And she did. She did that a lot, probably much more than I knew at the time. As I’ve said to people in the last week, she consistently made our jobs so much easier. We were all grateful for her constant willingness to serve us so well in this role.

Stacey was also loyal. Never once in these last nine years did I doubt that she was “on my side”. She made this clear in many ways. For instance, she expressed utter and full confidence in me, even when I lacked it, or doubted myself. I can speak for my colleagues in the department, when I say Stacey made us feel like she was always “on our side.” I think many people probably felt this way. And, you wanted Stacey on your side. I can’t imagine a more effective advocate.

Stacey was always encouraging and supportive. I could give you many examples, but I’ll only share one — how she supported me in my research and writing. In my very first few weeks here, she proudly sent out a message informing the entire faculty about an article I had recently published. I’m certain that her main purpose in doing so, was just to encourage me. When it came time for my sabbatical, she was an enthusiastic supporter, bringing me books and offering to put me in touch with people she knew. She kept cheering me on in my research, and it kept me going at times when I got discouraged. In fact, I don’t think I’d be working on the book I’m writing now, if it weren’t for Stacey’s strong encouragement and support.

Stacey loved teaching students at Bethel, and she was good at it. I sat in on one of her classes a couple years ago to observe. I later told Stacey it was great in so many different ways and that it reminded me of how important the teaching profession was, and how good it could be, if done well. Stacey pushed for excellence inside, and outside of the classroom. As one of her students said last week, she always challenged them to give 110%.

Stacey was an extraordinary mentor to students. She was exceedingly generous with the time she spent advising them. She cared deeply about their well-being, who they were as human beings and how they could best serve in God’s kingdom. Stacey was especially compassionate and caring with struggling students. She would always go the extra mile for them.

I know I will miss Stacey for a long time to come. She was a true friend and sister in Christ. But, I’m comforted and encouraged by couple of things. First, and most importantly she was a woman of great faith. As I said in one my classes last Friday, Stacey had the faith described in Hebrews 11, a “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (v 1). She modelled this faith for her family, her friends and colleagues and her students.

I’m also encouraged by the legacy she leaves. She touched the lives of many students, and others, who are now busy leading productive and fruitful lives. She’s also left an important legacy by showing us all how to be servants.

Stacey serves as an inspiration for all. Bethel University, and the world, are better places because she was with us.

Thank you.

Fred Van Geest, Stacey Hunter Hecht, and John Lawyer at 2014 Homecoming
Left to right: Fred, Stacey, and John at a 2014 Homecoming reception

John Lawyer, Professor Emeritus of Political Science

Let us celebrate together the gift God has given us in our beloved friend and colleague, Stacey Hunter Hecht.

Putting words to the thoughts and feelings that follow that call is not easy. We start with memories, incidents, and images. I think especially of Stacey sitting at the desk in her office, the door usually ajar, and how she would turn to welcome the visitor with her whole presence as well as with her words. You always knew that she was there for you, that she cared, that she would willingly put her thoughts and insights at your disposal no matter what the issue – academic, administrative, or simply a personal drop-in, and that they would always be compassionate and helpful, making sense to both heart and head.

There are so many specific memories, some of which we may have already shared with others, and some that quietly dwell in our hearts. But the more I think of Stacey the less I recall this or that incident. What comes to mind mostly is the steady sense of her presence, the quick and somewhat puckish sense of humor, her simply being there and being available. It is the gift of herself to the entire community.

And not, of course, to Bethel alone, but beyond these walls to her family and friends, her church, her neighbors, the Twin Cities’ Chinese community, the Almanac TV audience, and so many others.

I said a minute ago it is the gift of herself, not was – because anyone who has known her carries some mark of that presence with them – with us – still. Several centuries back St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Be what you are, and be that well.” That was Stacey, fully herself; and through knowing her each of us is able to be more fully who we are, more fully human, more fully the person we are called to be in God’s good plan.

And that is indeed something worth celebrating.

May God’s peace abide with us all. Amen.

See also the tribute posted earlier this morning from G.W. Carlson, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science.

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