It’s been a long, sometimes bumpy, road for the social work program at Walla Walla College (WWC), but God’s hand has been firmly steering it along the way. Just ask Wilma Hepker, School of Social Work and Sociology dean.
“I had to do a lot of standing on my head to get things done,” Hepker says. “But I know it has always been God’s will. Otherwise, we would never have overcome all the obstacles that we faced.”
Along with God’s blessing, it was Hepker’s impetus more than 30 years ago that led WWC to offer social work classes. Those classes have morphed into a fully accredited school, offering both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. There are 23 faculty members and approximately 300 students on three campuses in two states.
More students graduate from the School of Social Work each year than from any other program at WWC. In fact, nearly one-third of all WWC graduates receive a Masters in Social Work.
Hepker can recite one miraculous story after another, detailing challenges the fledgling department faced as it struggled to get off the ground.
Now the program will have to continue without the leadership of its founder and driving force. Hepker plans to retire in September, after 33 years at WWC. Pamela Cress, associate professor of social work, will take over the reins as dean of the School of Social Work and Sociology at that time.
Recently, Hepker was honored by the renaming of the school to the Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology. “It’s all ‘much ado about nothing’,” Hepker laughs. “But this is certainly a great honor and I do appreciate it.”
The ‘nothing’ she refers to could fill several lifetimes. Hepker has made many valuable contributions to WWC, the Adventist church, the community, and the social work field. From time spent in Beirut, Lebanon, to classrooms in Little Rock, Ark., or the kitchens of Helpline, a Walla Walla County emergency social services organization she helped create, Hepker’s tireless energy for helping others serves as a living example of service.
Although she will be leaving the program to spend time with her eight grandchildren, write the School of Social Work's history, and clean out the stacks that have accumulated in her house throughout the busy years, Hepker knows God holds the School of Social Work and Sociology close to His heart.
“Christ was the greatest social worker,” says Hepker. “He met people’s needs. He loved them, cared for them, fed them, clothed them. Social work’s belief in the value and worth of each human being comes from Christ’s example. Our goal is to help each person to reach his or her potential. That’s why we have a social work program at Walla Walla College.”