January 16, 2016

Stanley Hickerson, Preserver and Reteller of Early Adventist History, Dead at 63

Editor’s note: Click HERE to watch a live-stream of the funeral at the Pioneer Memorial Church at 11 a.m. CT on Jan. 18.

Stanley D. Hickerson, a pastor with an encyclopedic knowledge of early Adventist history and a passion for church heritage that spurred him into finding two Ellen G. White sites, died Jan. 15 after a months-long struggle with cancer. He was 63.

Hickerson served as a pastor of churches in the U.S. states of California and Michigan for much of his life, but it was his fascination with Seventh-day Adventist Church history that prompted him to help preserve historic Adventist sites and work as the Ellen G. White Estate’s annotation project editor, the position that he held at his death.

Hickerson died at 1:05 p.m. Friday surrounded by family in his home in Berrien Springs, Michigan, said Merlin D. Burt, a friend of Hickerson since the early 1980s and director of Andrews University’s Center for Adventist Research, where Hickerson’s office was located.

“He was a true pastor who cared deeply for people and put his faith into action in actually helping where there were needs,” Burt said. “Of course, he is also known widely for his years of contributions to Adventist heritage ministry.”

Burt said he would long remember a 1994 trip that he and Hickerson had taken to Maine in search of information about the early life of Adventist Church cofounder Ellen White. With considerable effort, Hickerson and Burt made two discoveries of a lifetime. They pinpointed a site near the town of Gorham where White may have been born and lived a short time afterward, Burt said. The two men also located the home of Ellen White’s parents, Robert and Eunice Harmon, where Ellen lived after her marriage to James White in 1846.

“It was their first married home and also where they probably accepted the Sabbath,” Burt said.

Ascension Rock in New York state, one of the sites where people waited for Jesus to return in the Great Disappointment of 1844. Hickerson's relatives were among the thousands of people waiting in the U.S. Northeast. (Adventist Archives)

Roots in Great Disappointment

Hickerson was born on July 15, 1952, in California to a family that traces its Adventist roots to the earliest days of the movement: the Great Disappointment. Among the tens of thousands of people who gathered in the northeastern U.S. to wait for Jesus’ Second Coming on Oct. 22, 1844, were two relatives who lived in despair for decades afterward. Benjamin Franklin Craig only heard about the three angels’ messages 25 years later in Adel, Iowa, and John M. Robb, heard them 30 years later in Kansas, Hickerson, their great-great grandson, told the Adventist Review in 2014 on the 170th anniversary of the Great Disappointment.

“For all these years they suffered uncertainty about what really happened in 1844 and found peace when they finally understood the ministry of Christ in the Most Holy place and its relation to the Sabbath truth,” Hickerson said.

“Thus the significance for me of the Great Disappointment lies not in the disappointment but rather in the explanation” from the Bible, he said. “Some struggle with the value of the doctrine of Christ in the sanctuary, but for my family it represents the solution to a decades-old inexplicable disappointment.”

Read also: Great Disappointment Remembered 170 Years On

Hickerson started his pastoral ministry in California and later moved to Michigan, serving as the associate pastor of the Battle Creek church and then as the pastor of the Stevensville church. It was in Michigan — where the Adventist Church was first established, in Battle Creek, in 1863 that his interest in Adventist heritage flourished.

“Stan was an amazing resource about early Adventist history, with a commanding grasp of both the big sweep of the church’s first 50 years as well as the details of architectural restoration and preservation that have been vital to the development of Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek,” said Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, who has known Hickerson for nearly two decades. Both Hickerson and Knott have been board members of Adventist Heritage Ministry, an organization that restores and preserves historic Adventist sites such as the Historic Adventist Village.

“Stan invariably had better and more detailed information about Adventist heritage than almost anyone else in the room,” Knott said. “He offered it with a lively sense of humor and a trademark passion to help members understand how God led this Advent people through the decades.”

Annotating Ellen White

In 2012, Hickerson accepted an invitation from the White Estate to carry out the task of researching and annotating the second volume of The Ellen G. White Letters and Manuscripts With Annotations (1860-1863), continuing a work started by Roland Karlman, chief annotator for the first volume (1845-1859), who had retired.

“Stan was gifted in tenaciously pursuing facts about little-known areas of early Adventist history,” said Tim Poirier, vice director of the White Estate and annotation project manager. “His demonstrated research abilities, coupled with his respect for the writings of Ellen White, made him a perfect candidate to carry on this assignment. But he would never have called it an ‘assignment.’ It was pure enjoyment for him.”

Hickerson had completed the research for all of the documents and was beginning the writing of the annotations when he took ill.

In conjunction with his interest in church history, Hickerson did adjunct teaching for Andrews through the years, and was a frequent presenter at camp meetings and seminars about Adventist history.

Hickerson is survived by his wife, Kathryn, six children from two marriages, and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Andrews University Pioneer Memorial Church on Monday, Jan. 18. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that any donations be made to Adventist Heritage Ministry for the Joseph Bates Home Project.

The childhood home of Bates, a cofounder of the Adventist Church, was built in 1742 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Most recently, Hickerson had been working on restoring the two-story building as a historical consultant.

“He had a knack for researching elusive bits of information about Adventist heritage, including finding early books and photographs,” said James R. Nix, director of the White Estate.

Among Nix’s favorite recollections was when Hickerson was sharing something interesting he had just discovered, such as a clue to how a historic Adventist building had looked originally.

“He was jealous that everything properly represent His Lord and His church,” Nix said.

“Stan’s care for details; his enthusiasm for life; and his friendship with people from all over the world means that many, including myself, will miss him as together we look forward to the resurrection when we, with his family, will see Stan again,” he said.