Ken Heckathorn has worn many hats in his life, most of them with American Legion Post 154 in Nappanee.
Heckathorn graduated from NorthWood High School in 1971. “Ours was the first class to graduate in the new building,” he said. “I graduated along with former Nappanee mayor Larry Thompson.”
Right out of high school, Heckathorn enlisted in the U.S. Army and served more than 25 years in two stints. He served three years, then attended Indiana University South Bend to pursue a degree in criminal justice. In 1985, he returned to the military until he officially retired in 2013.
“I was deployed in several states around the United States and in Panama and Germany, among other countries. I was in special intelligence and became an instructor, teaching basic and advanced leadership courses.”
He wasted no time joining the American Legion, becoming a member of the Nappanee post in January 1972. “I came home on leave from basic training in December 1971, did all the paperwork and was a member the next month,” he said.
He has held “just about every position” of leadership at Post 154, including chaplain, historian, membership chairman, first vice commander and post commander.
Heckathorn didn’t stop there. He also worked as service officer for the Third District of the Indiana American Legion, which embraces posts in Elkhart, St. Joseph, Marshall and LaPorte counties. In that position he assisted veterans in following their paperwork and answered their questions and resolved issues with their benefits.
He served as district commander for two years after spending a year as membership chairman and was elected northern vice commander for the Department of Indiana American Legion, serving five of the state’s districts “from Kokomo north.” At the national level, Heckathorn sits on the national security and foreign affairs committee.
The positions “give me the opportunity to go to the Indiana statehouse and to Washington D.C. and call on congressmen and senators to get benefits for the veterans.”
Heckathorn has also involved himself with educational endeavors. He chaired Hoosier Boys State for four years and currently teaches fourth graders at Nappanee Elementary School about the American flag, what it represents and what each part of the flag means.
In return for his decades of service to the nation, its children and his fellow veterans, Heckathorn deems himself to have benefited as well. He listed the most gratifying part of his public service as “just listening to the people I meet. I have learned civility about myself. There are times when you can get emotional and say something you’ll regret later. I’m learning not to do that.”
He also enjoys “the camaraderie and working for a common goal. A lot gets accomplished. The American Legion has been a proactive force for veterans since its inception.”
He hailed “the caliber of people” he has met and whose presentations he has heard at conventions, including President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, who spoke on the 100th anniversary of the American Legion at the national convention in Minneapolis in 2019.
Heckathorn and his wife, Wanda, have been married since 1984 and have three grown children, all married; two live in Goshen and one lives in Wakarusa. The Heckathorns have six grandkids.
“What motivates me is my faith, my family and my fellow veterans,” he said. “If you are a veteran and haven’t enrolled in the VA health system, I would advise you to do it. Don’t wait until you have a problem. Do it right away. Contact your county’s veteran service officer.”
Heckathorn said he loves to read and travel. He recently finished an online course with Harvard University on brain cognition. He and Wanda, who retired from a 35-year nursing career, enjoy “getting out and going to antique markets and hiking in state parks.”
They went to Alaska for their 35th anniversary and would like to visit Hawaii. He has taken history trips, such as a tour of Gettysburg, and has traced his ancestry back to Switzerland in the 1600s, discovering he has the blood of French royalty coursing through his veins.
Source: Senior Life Newspapers