Barbara Higdon Succumbs to Cancer

Barbara J. McFarlane Higdon, Graceland’s first full-time woman president, passed away peacefully Friday (December 30) morning, surrounded by family, after a battle with cancer. She was 81 years old.

Bill and Barbara Higdon’s children had gathered as a family, from around the country and around the world, to be with their parents during the holidays. They were at Barbara’s hospital bedside in Des Moines when she passed away.

We invite you to share in the life of Barbara Higdon here.  

The funeral service will be Saturday, January 7, at 2 p.m. at the Lamoni Community of Christ Church located at 531 W Main Street, Lamoni, Iowa. The family will receive visitors at the church from 1-2 p.m.. prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given in Barbara’s name to Graceland University or Outreach International. 

Barbara was Graceland’s 13th president, serving from April 16, 1984 to December 31, 1991. She was known as an innovative leader and as a president who was not afraid to make tough decisions. Her leadership helped guide Graceland College out of a serious enrollment slump in the 1980s. She also led a three-year capital campaign that raised $10 million for the college.

She achieved another first in 1986 when she and Graceland educator Velma Ruch became the first women to be ordained to the RLDS priesthood on campus. Velma had served as Graceland’s acting president in 1974-75. Barbara was our first, full-time woman president.

Barbara was a 1949 Graceland graduate. She married William T. “Bill” Higdon (also a 1949 Graceland graduate) in 1950. Bill served as Graceland president from 1966 to 1974 and from 1992 to 1997.

After Barbara earned her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia, the Higdons returned to Graceland as faculty members in 1963. Barbara was a respected professor of language and literature classes here until 1975.

From 1974 to 1984 Barbara served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Park College in Kansas City.

As Graceland president, Barbara also began student exchanges with Hungary and Bulgaria, she helped launch the Chance Program, and she directed the application of a $3 million federal grant that brought modern computer technology to campus. She helped initiate the Outreach Nursing Program, now recognized as one of the best in the country, and she developed our Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

From 1992 to 1996 Barbara served as the first director of the RLDS Church’s Temple Peace Center in Independence, MO. She was the author of several books.

Barbara loved this university, revered its history, and believed in its future. After she and Bill built their home and retired to the country west of Lamoni, she continued to serve Graceland whenever and wherever she was called upon. Her efforts, and those of others, led to creation of the Community of Christ Seminary at Graceland in 2001. She served as Seminary Provost for its first year and helped develop its curriculum. She also served on the Graceland Board of Trustees during the last few years. Barbara received Graceland’s highest alumni honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 1995.

Please join me in remembering Barbara as a true Gracelander. Let us keep Bill and the Higdon family in our thoughts and prayers.

My best,

John Sellars, Ph.D.

President