Frank Graham Heppel

1918 - 2009

F. Graham Heppel, an accomplished flutist and versatile performer on several other instruments, taught music for over seventy years in five different countries and at the elementary school through university levels. Additionally, he led several military bands in both the U.S. and the Philippines.

Graham was born in West New York, New Jersey, on July 26, 1918, the only son and one of three children born to Frank and Philippine Lessner Heppel. There was a lot of music in the home, with his mother playing piano and father singing in frequent gatherings of the larger family where all participated in making music. His mother started him on piano before he entered grade school. He was fascinated by the violin and at an early age was given an instrument and lessons on it, with the condition that he continue piano lessons.

When Graham entered grade school, he could not speak English since only German was spoken in the home. He continued music study throughout his school years, learning flute in the grade school, and developed a playing proficiency on several instruments.

By the time he graduated from Memorial High School in 1936, he had been directing its 30 to 40 member band and giving private lessons on all band and orchestral instruments for the previous two years. He continued in this position for five more years and was promoted to the position of assistant supervisor of music for the city school system, which included the high school and five elementary schools. During this time he was also conductor and arranger for the North Hudson Symphonic Band and NH Brass Choir, and played flute in the New Jersey Symphony and the Eastern Swiss Band, which played in the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.

Heppel was drafted into the Army in April 1941. Following basic training, he trained and worked as a surgical technician and male nurse and was active as a musician. He spent twenty months in Los Angeles, teaching medical and surgical technicians before they shipped out to serve in the Pacific. He also served in the Pacific where he developed a treatment for jungle rot, using diluted creosote, that was subsequently adapted for general use.

Musical activities included serving as bandleader with the 236th Army Ground Forces and the Eighth Army Symphonic Band (General Robert L. Eichelberger's personal unit). Heppel was with the group that landed with General Douglas MacArthur when he returned to Leyte in the Philippines and witnessed the first raising of the U.S. flag on that island, and his band led the victory parade in Tokyo at the end of the war. He also played flute in the Nippon Philharmonic and gained some proficiency in speaking Japanese and eating with chopsticks.

Following his discharge from the Army in 1946, Heppel enrolled at Pacific Union College where he completed a music degree in 1950. In his last year at PUC, he also served as an instructor in music, assuming direction of the band. Following graduation, he accepted a position at Union Springs Academy in upstate New York, where he taught for one year. He then entered the ministry in New Jersey but after one year decided he would rather teach music.

Heppel accepted a position at Highland Academy in Tennessee, where he directed the band and choir for the next four years and led a Medical Cadet Corp on campus. He then taught both band and choir at Mt. Pisgah Academy for two years, before accepting an invitation to teach at Emmanuel Missionary College, later Andrews University, in 1958.

For the next fifteen years he periodically directed the university orchestra and the band at both the university and its affiliated academy, taught wind instruments, and played flute in the Twin Cities Symphony in St. Joseph, Michigan. While at AU, he completed an M.Mus. Ed. at Vandercook College in 1960 and had the satisfaction of teaching his father, who had come to live with him, to play the trombone.

Heppel also completed an acoustical engineering degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, while at AU. He would later use that training when designing music facilities and solving acoustic problems as a consultant. He drew on a natural mechanical ability to make improvements on wind instruments, some of which were patented and adopted by instrument manufacturers.

In 1973, Heppel accepted a position as band director at Bakersfield Academy in California, where he worked until retiring in 1983. Near the end of his time at AU, he had met Muriel Barclay Huber, an elementary school teacher. They married in 1976.

In 1983, they moved to Armstrong, British Columbia, Canada, where Muriel, a native of British Columbia, had accepted an elementary school teaching position. Immediately as they arrived Graham was contacted by the principal from North Okanagan Junior Academy with a request for him to start a band program at their school. During the next four years, he ran band programs at Grandview, Vernon, and Kelowna. After the less-than-completely-instrumented groups mastered their music, he would combine them to create a full band sound, present a program, and then go on tour. All of this was done on a volunteer basis without any remuneration.

Through the years, Heppel had expressed a desire to return to places he had been in the Pacific Theater and Far East during the war: Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Japan. In 1987, they took that trip, starting in Japan where they stayed on the grounds of the Manila Sanitarium. By chance, when they attended church Graham had a heartwarming reunion with the woman who had accompanied him when he played his flute during his earlier wartime stay.

When they arrived in the Philippines, they visited Philippine Union College, now Adventist University of the Philippines. Once the school learned who Heppel was and what he could do, they prevailed upon him to spend ten days teaching classes, repairing instruments, and conducting the band, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

The final stop was in Papua New Guinea, where they traveled to the Adventist school near Mt. Hagen and other places Graham had served in the war. It was an eventful stay including hearing nearby tribal fighting in the middle of their first night there and dealing with the threat of encountering "rascals" (thieves) when they ventured out for sightseeing.

They had just returned home when the president of the college in the Philippines asked the General Conference to extend an invitation to Heppel to teach band at the college. He accepted and they immediately returned for a stay that would last for four years, until 1991.

At the time of their arrival, he was invited to Manila where he met other band directors in the Philippines. He subsequently received a call from General Renato (Rene) de Villa, minister of defense, with a request for Heppel to form a band comparable to what the general had heard in his contact with U.S. military bands. He accepted and was given a one-day release each week from the college to travel to Fort Bonifacio to do this.

Heppel would leave at five in the morning and spend the day, which was known as "Heppel Day" at the fort, developing and working with the band. Outstanding teachers were drawn from other Manila universities to teach the players and also train band directors. Although Heppel initially thought this was an honorary position, it was an actual appointment for which he was given the rank of Brigadier General and then Major General in the Philippine Army by President Corazon Aquino.

She personally pinned the stars on him when he was awarded rank and he stood with her when she would review the troops. He also served as Dean of the School of Music for the Armed Forces [Army, Navy, Air Force] in the Republic of the Philippines. Whenever he traveled with the band, arrangements were made ahead of time for him to have vegetarian meals.

Just as they were leaving Philippine Union College in 1991, they were encouraged to visit Mountain View College at Bukidnon in the Philippines. While there, they met students that he had had at PUC who urged them to come there. They had barely returned home to Canada when they were invited by the General Conference to return to the Philippines to teach at MVC, Graham to each music and Muriel to teach religion and health classes. They returned to serve another six years.

During the Heppels time there he formed a philharmonic wind band, a philharmonic wind symphony band, and a marching band, the first bands to be formed at the college. He purchased instruments in the states at a huge discount, available given the situation, and gave lessons to enthused students who practiced in every conceivable place on campus, including in the stairwells and halls. From the initial cacophony of sounds, highly popular ensembles soon emerged.

The fifty-member marching band was invited to play for Philippine Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) exercises and then began getting invitations to play in marches and for other ceremonies. The governor of the province became a supporter of the marching group, on occasion stating, "That's my band!" At one parade, the MVC band had been placed at the rear of the marching groups, only to be reassigned to lead the parade just before it started. Heppel later described the opening within the groups as they moved from the rear of the parade to the front to be visually like the Biblical parting of the Red Sea.

They also had personal adventures during this time, one being an exhausting mission trek in the mountains on foot and horseback where they saw amazing vistas and witnessed primitive medical practices. The 1997 yearbook, which had fabrics as its unifying theme, was dedicated to both Heppels and another couple with the following dedication, "You came. You wove. You left. We changed. Thank you."

Charles Ed II Aguilar, yearbook editor then and church pastor now in British Columbia, Canada, is a versatile musician who played in Heppel's band and assisted in the music program. He recently recalled that experience:

I worked with Dr. Heppel all during the six years he was at MVC, from 1991 to 1997. I was band librarian and played euphonium, tuba, or saxophone as needed and helped by teaching the saxophone and other instruments to students. My first cousin, Francis, was Dr. Heppel's associate conductor and when both of them couldn't be there, I would conduct.

In my senior year, which was also the Heppels last, the school appointed me to be
the 1997 yearbook editor. As the staff discussed whom to dedicate the yearbook to, we finally decided to honor four great people who had had an awesome impact on the college and our work in the Philippines:
Dr. and Mrs. Virgil Bartlett (First President of Mountain View College) and the Heppels. Dr. Heppel helped put MVC on the musical map of the Philippines. He started a band program that at its peak had close to ninety members in the concert band and formed a college choir that in national competition in Manila placed fourth overall in the thirteen adult/college choirs that participated.

He was famous for his sayings, which became known on campus as Heppelisms. Some of these printed in the 1997 yearbook included, "When you start to admit, you learn" (a playful remark he would say to a band member who had messed up a piece and then tried to look innocent). "You've got to be more together than a husband and wife" (on playing together, usually aimed at the percussion section). "Right notes in the wrong time are still wrong notes" (one of the funniest Heppelisms and one we will never forget; he said this often). We all understood that he was also alluding to issues that transcended the situation, ones that involved the way one lived his or her life.

Three years after returning from their second stint in the Philippines, Graham traveled to Sakhalein, an island off the East Coast of Russia, where he taught music theory classes at Russian Samyook University, an Adventist school, in 2000. Following a brief return in the following year, he returned to Canada where he again volunteered to teach beginning band students at North Okanagan Junior Academy. Finally, after more than seven decades of teaching, he fully retired in December 2007.

Graham and his wife, Muriel, were living Armstrong, British Columbia, Canada, at the time of his death on October 7, 2009, at age 91.


Sources: Interviews with F. Graham Heppel by his wife, Muriel, June 2009 which were shared with me by phone.  Drafts of his biography were then sent to her and verified by him; Pacific Union Recorder, 26 November 1973, 3; Adventist Review, Bulletin Board Postings for Volunteer Service, 27 August 87 (20) and 9 April 1992 (22); Andrew University Yearbooks; and Pacific Union College faculty listings in the a school history presented in the 1957 PUC yearbook; U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014,