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Alumni Spotlight: Mary Heidkamp ’71

By Clarke News  |  December 13, 2023

Clarke: Your path to Clarke was a little different from many of your classmates in the 1960s.  

Mary: That’s putting it mildly! I am the second oldest in a family of 12 with six brothers and five sisters. We started life in Chicago, then on to Philadelphia, and when I was 14, we moved to South Africa for my father’s work. We went from living in big cities to a farm outside Johannesburg with a cow for milk, chickens for eggs, and a couple of horses for fun. No TV and only three radio stations. We arrived in South Africa shortly after Mandela was jailed.  My dad taught us about human rights, the dignity of all people and why apartheid was wrong. He showed, by his quiet actions including treating our black workers with respect, that one person can make a difference.  

In the spring of 1967, after four years in Africa, my older sister and I headed back to the USA via Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Canada. It was a grand three-month adventure traveling via trains, planes, and ship. It was also another learning experience when our trip to the Middle East was cut short due to the Arab Israeli Six Day War. 

On arrival at Clarke, I felt like a cultural misfit. When classmates discussed their experience in the tumultuous sixties, civil rights, and the peace movement, I had no idea what they were talking about. There was very little public protest in South Africa at that time. But it was something I would quickly embrace.  

Clarke: How did you come to dedicate your personal and professional life to civil and human rights? What are some of the milestones you are most proud of? 

There were several key moments that implanted the desire to dedicate myself to civil and human rights. At Clarke Sister Barbara Kutchera ’59 helped me understand why it mattered for each of us to be involved locally, nationally, and globally to make the world a more just place. During my freshman year, I attended a vibrant and captivating lecture by Saul Alinisky which brought these ideas to life in concrete ways.  Lastly, Sister Dorita Clifford encouraged me to teach English in Japan as a Maryknoll lay missioner. All of this helped me turn my Catholic upbringing and my nascent desire to make a difference in the world, into a lifetime mission and pursuit through my professional roles.  

After returning from Japan, I worked as the Director of the Social Action Office at the Diocese of Providence, then accepted a similar role for the Diocese of Rochester NY. From there I was recruited to direct the Campaign for Human Development for the Archdiocese of Chicago providing funding to community organizations throughout the city. I also had the privilege of co-authoring a book, “Moving Faith into Action,” a facilitator’s guide for parish social action which was used throughout the country. 

After 30 years of working for social justice, I leveraged my years of experience into starting my own company, Dynamic Insights International in 1999. As founder and president, I provide leadership coaching to executives and boards in health care, philanthropy, and non-profits so that they might increase their performance and social impact.  

Clarke: Are there times in your life you’ve sought mentorship or were a mentor? 

Mary: Both. Early in my professional career, I eagerly sought mentors and also courses that would help me navigate my leadership and supervisory roles but found none.  In many ways that difficult search for mentors shaped my life and my work to be an educator and a mentor. It also led me to earn my Doctorate in Ministry with a concentration in executive leadership and organizational development.  

Mentoring and teaching future leaders keeps me inspired and motivated every day, especially when working with young women. I consider it an essential part of my life’s mission to mentor others to be the best they can be, to articulate their dreams and passions, and to help them envision and create a path forward. Remembering my early years without mentors or role models, I now seek out aspiring young woman to mentor.  

Clarke: Tell us a little about what community means to you? 

The burden is made lighter when you have people by your side. Through life, I have learned to never be afraid to ask for help and seek companions on life’s journey.  

Clarke: While we can never know for sure, what do you think 2024 has in store for you? 

Mary: In 2024 I will celebrate two milestones: 75 years on this planet and 25 years since I began my own company. I am looking forward to a family reunion with all 12 of my siblings and their families in August 2024. I’m also excited I’ve been invited back to team teach “Communities with a Heart” at Radboud University in the Netherlands to international students who work in socially engaged organizations 

I envision every year, 2024 and beyond, being as exhilarating and nurturing as each of my previous 75. And how could it not be – I’ll be spending time with my two children, son-in-law and two grandbabies.