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Education, Faith and Compassion

Values drive scholarship gift in Becky Heidrick’s memory

From Bell Tower - Fall 2020

For Gary Heidrick, bba ’73, meeting his wife, Becky Heidrick, was the highlight of his time as a student at Washburn University. The couple got to know each other in 1972, when Gary was a senior majoring in business and accounting and Becky was a freshman. They both belonged to a school-based social club known as the Independent Students Association. The first time Gary saw Becky at one of the group’s events, she made quite an impression.

“She was very good looking,” Gary recalled. “Two months after we met I took her to meet my parents, and my dad called me that evening and said he liked my girlfriend Becky. She was the most significant part of my time at Washburn.”

Becky HeidrickForty-seven years later, two scholarships at Washburn bear Becky’s name: the Gary and Rebecca Heidrick Business and Education Scholarships, which Gary created to honor his wife’s memory after she passed away from ovarian cancer in 2016. But starting with their introduction at Washburn, the Heidricks enjoyed a full and happy life together. Their shared journey began in earnest in 1974, when they married and moved to Gary’s hometown of Salina, Kansas, where he was transferred to continue his work for the Internal Revenue Service.

“After I finished my training for the Internal Revenue Service, they sent me back home to Salina, which I wasn’t too fond of – but you’ve got to go where the work is,” Gary said. “My accounting hours at Washburn enabled me to meet the requirements for a revenue agent position. I was interested in accounting – and Salina was good to us.”

While Gary excelled in his career with the IRS, Becky completed her education degree at Kansas Wesleyan University with a focus in high school-level home economics, which built on her natural interests and talents.

“She was a wonderful cook – and I had the waistline to prove it,” Gary laughed. “She could do anything as far as home economics and crafts. She was a good seamstress – she could sew anything. She made her own wedding dress, even – and it was a beautiful dress. ”

After she graduated, Becky started substitute teaching middle and elementary school classes in Salina, discovering she enjoyed working with younger children even more than high school students. A few years later in 1980, Gary and Becky had their first son, Jeff, followed by their daughter, Amy, in 1983. During this time, Gary also earned a promotion that moved the family to Wichita. While their children were young, Becky stayed home to care for them – a role that suited her perfectly and drew on her skill set as a homemaker.

“She was so crazy about kids. She knew how to do everything for her children. No mother ever loved her children more than Becky, and none ever received better care,” Gary said. “She always kidded that her claim to fame was that she gave birth [to Jeff] while Mount Saint Helens was erupting.”

When the children started school, Becky returned to substitute teaching in the Maize, Kansas, school district. Because of her educational background and relationship with the students and teachers, she was soon approached about becoming a full-time teacher. In 1993, she earned the credentials to teach sixth-grade social studies, a position she enjoyed for 23 years. In the classroom, Becky’s enthusiasm for crafts and creativity propelled her to create props, posters and pictures as learning aids for each area of study. She also taught her students patience, kindness and acceptance – and one student even memorably said her classroom was “better than a museum.”

In 2007, Gary retired from a successful 33-year career with the IRS, and Becky retired from teaching nine years later. The Heidricks’ golden years were primed to be busy and rewarding as well – in 2016, the couple already had three grandchildren, and two more were on the way. But before Becky could kick up her heels, she needed to undergo ankle replacement surgery to correct an injury she sustained in 2002, a procedure that required a long, difficult recovery. Just when she was able to walk on her own again, she received the devastating ovarian cancer diagnosis.

“Becky was diagnosed two days after our granddaughter Isla was born, and Becky died two months later,” Gary said. “Then our granddaughter Halle was born a month after Becky died. She didn’t get to meet all of her grandkids. She was just absolutely nuts about the grandkids. She had been eager to have grandchildren for a long time, but she only got to be ’Nana’ for about four years.”

To keep Becky’s memory alive at Washburn University, where their story began, Gary decided to create two scholarships in her name to provide a long-lasting tribute to a woman who valued education, faith and compassion. The scholarships are given to junior and senior students in Gary and Becky’s respective majors – business and education – and they are awarded based on financial need as well as grade-point average.

“We wanted to help somebody that really needs it,” Gary said. “We wanted to help somebody at the end of their education and give them a few dollars to get over the hump, as well as honor Becky’s commitment to education.”

Today, Becky’s legacy of education is secure not only at Washburn, but within her family as well – her daughter, Amy, is a teacher like her mother. Gary fills his days by spending as much time as possible with his five grandkids – Roman, Reeve, Isla, Leah and Hallie – but even then, Becky’s memory is never far.

“I have a great time with the grandkids,” Gary said. “Becky would love to be here doing crafts with them.”

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