A few years after her graduation from the University of Redlands, Marian Stannard Heidel ’58 was taking religion courses at the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School (now Berkeley School of Theology) when she saw and heard a “handsome young man” who caught her attention.
“He was a tenor who sang in a quartet,” recalls Marian, who loved singing in the choir at her alma mater, especially in the annual Feast of Lights holiday tradition. The young man was John Heidel ’78 (DST), and the couple became engaged two months later, now married for nearly 60 years.
Raised as a Methodist, John grew up on a farm in southern Idaho but “always had his eye on the ministry.” After attending Berkeley, he was ordained in the United Church of Christ Northern California Conference in San Francisco and accepted a position as minister to youth at Central Union Church in Honolulu. Feeling that his theology and awareness of other cultures was “evolving,” John transitioned to a co-chaplain role at Punahou School in Honolulu in 1969, a post he held until 2001. His fellow chaplain was David Steele, a Presbyterian minister who led him to San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS), where they completed their Doctor of Science in Theology degrees together.
John’s SFTS experience expanded his view of ministry. “It was very foundational to who I am now,” says John, who has served as president of the Interfaith Alliance Hawaii for eight years and is passionate about social justice issues.
Marian was born in China, where her father, Raymond Stannard ’23, had relocated with his wife, Marjorie Stannard ’23, and their three oldest children in response to a calling from the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. For several years, Raymond practiced medicine and supported the Baptist ministry in several Chinese cities, including Shaoxing and Ningbo in East China.
Marian’s earliest childhood memories in the U.S., however, were at her grandparents’ ranch in Redlands. The first thing she learned about the University was the “Och Tamale” chant, which her parents taught her and her five siblings. Marian’s grandfather, Milo Smith, was among the Baptist ministers who first envisioned the creation of the University in Redlands, and she continued her education in the family tradition.
“My professors were so supportive,” says Marian, a sociology major who was among the first U of R students to travel abroad through a Presbyterian program at the Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, Pakistan in her junior year. After working in healthcare, Marian became the secretary at Wo International Center of Punahou School in Honolulu, ensuring other students had study abroad experiences like hers.
When the couple learned of the merger between U of R and SFTS in July 2019, John was initially concerned that SFTS would lose its identity. “But that hasn’t happened,” he says. “SFTS is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and is going strong.” Marian appreciates that the U of R is “still keeping up its spiritual drive and intercultural programs” and is “hopeful” about the merger, as is John.
“SFTS helped me grow spiritually in ways I would not have been able to do otherwise,” says John. “It pushed me to evolve as a theologian.”