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Olive Warkentin Hiebert

This article was originally published in Messenger, Summer 1983.

Olive Hiebert: A Model of Service

The 1983 recipient of Fresno Pacific College Alumni Association's "Distinguished Alumni Award," Olive Warkentin Hiebert, has been associated with the college for 32 years. Students from Pacific Bible Institute will remember her as office secretary and dean of women. She has also been secretary to the president and registrar. Since 1966 she has been the administrative assistant to the president. This year marks Hiebert's retirement from her employment at the college. In the following article, reprinted with permission from The Syrinx, FPC's student newspaper, she reflects on her history with the college.

Syrinx: What brought you to the school?

Olive: After graduating from high school, I spent a year at the University of Colorado in Fort Collins. Those were the depression years, though, and I didn't have the finances to continue. Student aid programs were not available, so I went to work, hoping to continue my college work later. After working in Denver for a year, I came to California, packed fruit in Reedley for two seasons, and then moved to Los Angeles, where I worked for Douglas Aircraft and Pacific Telephone Company.

I was attending our Hoover Street Mennonite Brethren Church in Los Angeles and was aware of the plans for beginning a Bible institute. Reports about our new conference school in Fresno were positive, and I was interested in a Christian setting for further study.

Syrinx: What did you find when you came?

Olive: Moving into a dormitory was almost devastating after having lived in an apartment and being on my own for 11 years. Rules and regulations, including strict dress codes, "lights out," and even bed checks, were adhered to strictly. It wasn't easy, but you conform and learn to adjust.

Some highlights of student years were the Prayer Band rallies and dinners which featured missionaries from various countries and international foods, the annual Bible emphasis week, participation in student government, and singing tenor in the college choir.

Syrinx: When did you begin working here, and what did you do?

Olive: I began in the registrar's office while a student. Following graduation I was employed as full-time school secretary. During my first two years I also served as supervisor of the women's dormitory. I have had the privilege of working with all the presidents who have served the college--as secretary to G.W. Peters, R.M. Baerg, and B.J. Braun, and as administrative assistant to Arthur J. Wiebe and Edmund Janzen.

Syrinx: What are some of the memories that come to mind when you think about your years working here?

Olive: There have been so many . . . Moving to this campus from downtown was one. Another high point was being officially appointed registrar in 1963 after having had responsibility for admissions and records for a number of years.

Syrinx: That job didn't last very long though, did it?

Olive: No, it was interrupted by a special person by the name of Cornelius Hiebert. When we were married in April, 1964, I terminated my employment at the college. (Editor's note: Cornelius Hiebert built the original Hiebert Library and donated it to the school in 1962.) My husband built office furniture, so I too became involved with the Fine Arts Office Furniture Corporation.

The joys of our living, working, and traveling together came to an abrupt end when he died suddenly from a heart attack in November, 1965. I was asked to return to FPC as Administrative Assistant to President Arthur Wiebe in August of 1966. For the first two years I also served part time as dean of women.

Syrinx: Were there other highlights?

Olive: Oh yes, many. Two more were naming the cafeteria "Alumni Hall" because so many alumni had a part in its construction, and seeing the gymnasium become a reality after so many years.

One I've hoped and prayed for that hasn't materialized yet is an Administration building. I would have been happy to have moved my office--for the ninth time--into that facility.

Syrinx: What are some of the changes you have seen over the years?

Olive: One change I found difficult was the transition from a four-year Bible college to a two-year junior college program. I often wished and prayed that we might be able to return to a four-year program. This would enable students to develop a closer ownership of the school, form more lasting relationships both with students and faculty, and have the opportunity to develop strong leadership skills in student government, which was difficult if they were here for just two years. The exciting highlight came in 1965 when we received full accreditation as a four-year liberal arts college.

Seeing the continued growth and program development has been rewarding. Inauguration of the in-service and graduate programs has expanded our community.

It has been a joy seeing the student body grow in number. Its size was at low ebb during the time we were making the transition from downtown to here (1959-1960), and I wondered if I wanted to stay on a "sinking ship." But there was the excitement of moving, and growth and development followed.

Syrinx: Have you seen any negative changes?

Olive: How does one respond to this? There were times when I sensed a decline in spiritual concerns. However, I have been happy for the positive changes in this area during the last few years. I am particularly happy for the interest on the part of students to initiate Bible studies in varied settings and to become more actively involved in service-oriented ministries.

Syrinx: What motivated you to stay at FPC as long as you have?

Olive: My service at Fresno Pacific has been in response to a clear call from God to give my life to Christian service. It has been a satisfying and rewarding ministry that I have enjoyed to the fullest.

The relationships established with students, faculty, and staff over the years have been so meaningful. These range from roommates now living in Zimbabwe and Saskatchewan to the new students I have learned to know this year. As faculty have come and gone, many relationships have been established, and I cherish them all.

Syrinx: What are your plans for after you retire?

Olive: I will not be leaving Fresno, and am looking forward to a continued close interaction with the college, possibly including some special assignments. Maybe I will now have time to give attention to some of the many projects that have been "shelved" for lack of time. Living at a (hopefully) more relaxed pace for a time will be welcome.