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J. Wilmer Heisey in 2005 in Akron, Pa. (MCC Photo/Grant Rissler)

J. Wilmer Heisey in 2005 in Akron, Pa. (MCC Photo/Grant Rissler)

Former MCC U.S. leader’s service spanned seven decades

MCC staff
May 7, 2013


AKRON, Pa. – For James Wilmer Heisey, executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. in the 1980s, MCC service began as a conscientious objector to war in 1943 and continued seven decades later as a local volunteer with Booksavers of Virginia, whose profits support MCC work.

Heisey, 89, of Harrisonburg, Va., died May 5 in Harrisonburg.

Heisey was part of the Brethren in Christ Church throughout his lifetime and an ordained pastor in that denomination. He studied at Messiah Bible College in Grantham, Pa., and graduated from Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.

When Heisey was drafted during World War II, he performed alternative service in Civilian Public Service for three years, working as a dairy tester in central Maine.

After the war, he volunteered with MCC in the remote mountain region of Lamao in the Philippines. In 1948, he married another worker there, Velma Climenhaga of Kindersley, Sask. Velma Heisey survives her husband in Harrisonburg.

Heisey went on to serve as superintendent of the Navajo Brethren in Christ Mission in the Four Corners area of New Mexico.

In 1966, he began working at the Elizabethtown headquarters of the Brethren in Christ Board for Missions, becoming executive secretary in 1968. While there, Heisey helped create the Commission on Peace and Social Concerns.

In 1982, he was appointed executive secretary (a role now called executive director) of MCC U.S., and also led its Farm Crisis Task Force.

MCC U.S. executive director J Ron Byler said, “Throughout his lifetime, Wilmer demonstrated a commitment to the church and to Christ’s way of peace.”

After retiring from MCC U.S. in 1989, Heisey continued his lifelong engagement with young people by teaching high school students for several years at Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite School.

Heisey wrote numerous articles in Anabaptist publications and two books: The Cross Roads Story: A Brethren in Christ Community Living at the Threshold of Tomorrow and Lamao 1947–1950: Tinguians and Americans Working Together.

In addition to his spouse, Heisey is survived by their children, Paul Heisey of Arlington, Va.; Nancy Heisey (and Paul Longacre) of Harrisonburg; and Mary Jane Heisey (and Philip Harnden) of Richville, N.Y.; daughter-in-law, Melinda Smale of Arlington; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was scheduled for May 8 at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, with a second service and burial to be held later at Cross Roads Brethren in Christ Church, Mount Joy, Pa.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations to Brethren in Christ World Missions, PO Box 390, Grantham, PA 17027; or MCC U.S., PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ