Hometown Hillsdale: Pam Heckel, ’98

Written by Stephanie Gordon

Having spent most of her life in Hillsdale County, Pamela Blonde Heckel, ’98, appreciates all it has to offer—the familiarity, the landscape, and the small communities. The art major and athlete grew up on a hog farm in nearby Litchfield, Michigan, and after a brief sojourn out of state, returned home with her husband, Dr. Christopher Heckel.

A long-time athlete who wanted to compete at the collegiate level, Heckel was given that opportunity as a track and basketball athlete at Hillsdale. “Track had a huge influence on me,” said Heckel. “Bill Lundberg was my coach, and we were able to attend a few national meets. A lot of friendships were forged through my track experience.” That included a relationship with her now husband, Christopher. “He was a thrower for the track team, and he was the neighbor boy growing up. His parents were dairy farmers a couple miles down the road from my family.” Heckel added that even though their families had known each other “for forever,” the two didn’t date until they were students at Hillsdale. 

In addition to her love for basketball and track, Heckel started to find other interests during her time at Hillsdale. “It took me a long time to declare a major,” said Heckel. “I thought maybe education initially, but then I took art history and art studio classes with Prof. Sam Knecht, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.” 

Heckel especially developed a love for photography, and went on to earn her MFA degree in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. “I learned a lot about alternative processes, like cyanotypes and salted paper prints,” Heckel said.

After receiving her MFA, and after Christopher completed his master’s degree from Georgia Southern, the Heckels moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while Christopher obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. Heckel worked for the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh, and eventually started teaching online for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. During that time, the Heckels welcomed two sons: Magnus and Oliver. 

“While we were in Pittsburgh, Christopher was offered a job at Hillsdale Academy,” said Heckel. “We wanted to come back home; I think that was our hope all along. There were plenty of other opportunities that could have kept us in other cities. With both of our families from this area, that was a really strong pull, especially after we started having children.” 

After returning home to Hillsdale, the couple welcomed daughter, Effie, and son, Dashiel. Heckel continued to work for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh until it closed its doors in 2019. “I was ready for a physical classroom and I wanted that interaction with students,” Heckel said.

So Heckel held photography workshops at the local library and became involved with local art organizations like ArtWorks of Hillsdale and The Heritage Association. She also became a vendor at the Hillsdale County Farmers Market. There, she became known for her street portraits, her beautiful cyanotypes and salted paper prints, and homegrown tomatoes. “I was always seeking out opportunities to teach, and then in 2019, I started teaching art at Hillsdale Academy.”

The Heckels are happy to be home in Hillsdale raising their four children in an area that is familiar and dear to them. Heckel still teaches art and even coaches track at the Academy. She said it’s especially been a gift to coach her eldest son, Magnus, in the shot put and discus. Christopher is an assistant professor of biology at the College.

“It’s been really special for us to be able to have our children know their grandparents well and spend time with them,” said Heckel. “We’ve spent countless hours walking and exploring with our children in Hillsdale County. I think that comes from our own childhood; doing the same thing as kids and being able to do that with our own children.”

Stephanie Gordon, a lifelong Hillsdale native, is the managing editor of the Student Stories Blog. She is married to chiropractor, Dr. Matt Gordon, and has three children – Eloise, Flora, and Jack. When she has a spare moment, she enjoys paleo baking, floating on Baw Beese Lake, and breaking a sweat at the gym.

Published in January 2023