“From Struggle to Hope and a New Creation:” The Memory of Jane Higa
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Beloved, honored, cherished, and grieved.
Jane Hideko Higa, Westmont’s former Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, passed away Friday, Sept. 5 at the age of 63 after a long battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Her memorial service was held Saturday, Sept.13 at Santa Barbara Community Church.
As each guest entered the church, a purple and white orchid lei was placed around his or her neck. The piano softly played to the melody of “Even There Your Hand Will Guide” as attendees gathered inside greeted by spring-colored flowers—a subtle representation of new life.
Bart Tarman, former Westmont Chaplin and friend of Higa, began the service.
“Jane is gone, but she is not dead…she’s never been more alive than right now,” Tarman said. “[She is] more clear and vibrant…burning more brightly than ever before,”
A year and a half ago, Higa was diagnosed with ALS, which according to the ALS Association is, “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.” As the disease progresses, voluntary muscle movement becomes increasingly difficult and eventually impossible.
Conscious of ALS’s fatal implications, Higa was able to help design her own memorial service. According to the memorial pamphlet, she intentionally structured it to illustrate the progression from “struggle to Hope and a New Creation…which is how she saw her own journey after diagnosis.”
The living hope Higa found in Christ was woven throughout the many fond memories and admirable attributes shared about her throughout the service.
David Winter, former Westmont President and friend of Higa stated that, “No one could deny her commitment to Jesus and to her Christian faith.”
“[She was able] to live in a world of reality with a deep and solid faith,” said Winter.
Throughout her professional life, Higa impacted the world of Christian higher education in unforgettable ways. Throughout her career, Higa was a persistent voice for both the partnership of faculty and students, and for the advancement of “multicultural competence.”
Higa graduated from Westmont in 1973, served in student relations for nine years at Biola University. She then came to Westmont in 1989 as Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students.
She had been acclaimed both nationally and at Westmont for her many accomplishments. Her awards included: the Association of Christians and Student Development’s (ACSD) Don L. Boender Award in 1998, ACSD’s first Jane Hideko Higa Multi-Cultural Advancement Award in 2011. Westmont’s Jane Higa Academic and Co-Curricular Partnership Award created in her honor in 2013.
After 24 years of service, Higa retired from Westmont last year after being diagnosed with ALS. She remains the longest serving vice president in college history.
“[Higa] never denied the struggle, but she found hope in everything, even if it was [hope] the size of a grain of sand,” stated Jen Corey, Higa’s daughter.
Current Westmont Provost Mark Sargent said Higa was also known for her, “warm smile that set people at ease.” Sargent has known Higa for 30 years.
“[She had] the heart of a poet and a playwright sense of spirit,” said Sargent.
This poetic nature may have influenced her great love of hearing the community sing and of hearing people gather together to rejoice in worship. In light of this appreciation, the college performed George Frideric Handel’s “Oratorio” for Higa during her last Westmont chapel.
In addition to her love of song was her ability to embrace her humanity in a spirit of joy and grace. Dans Ribbens, a family friend of Higa, stated that, “one of [Jane’s] many attributes was her ability to laugh at herself and allow us to join in.”
“There’s not enough words to describe what Jane’s done…but thanks be to God for unspeakable gifts,” said Tarman.
Photo Source Westmont Website