Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, a longtime volunteer chaplain for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and assistant pastor at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in Isla Vista, died last week. He was 73.
Father Hedges, known by many simply as “Father Jon,” suffered kidney failure resulting from amyloidosis and died Thursday while in hospice care.
While he considered Colorado as his home, Father Hedges came to Isla Vista in 1968. The son of a Navy officer, he moved around during his youth before settling in I.V. He graduated from UCSB with a bachelor of arts degree in cultural anthropology, and also completed a Masters in Orthodox Theology from St. Athanasius Academy.
He served as a volunteer chaplain with the Sheriff’s Office, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol and several other agencies. He also served as assistant pastor at the Isla Vista church, in addition to his work within the local community.
“He collaborated and consulted with several Santa Barbara County agencies on crisis, trauma, and disaster issues; was deployed by Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina as a Disaster Mental Health worker; helped develop the St. Brigid Fellowship of St. Athanasius Church which serves the unsheltered in our community; and collaborated with Doctors Without Walls and many others to encourage his friends on the street,” read an obituary on the St. Athanasius website.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney told the News-Press she loved Father Hedges “because of what he did for the most vulnerable members of our community and for how he inspired the most powerful.”
“I loved the way he gave you all of his heart and all of the twinkles in his eyes when he spoke to you, no matter who you were,” she said in an email. “I love how he brought people together who agreed upon nothing besides their love and respect for him.”
Father Hedges, who played a key role in helping form the Isla Vista Community Services District, was the victim of an attack at his home in 2016 by a UCSB student.
“And so loving him the way I do I was personally horrified when he became the crime victim of a brutal beating but not the least bit surprised when he forgave his attacker and asked us to do the same,” Ms. Dudley said. “To say I will miss Father Jon is an understatement because as mighty as he was he will leave a permanent hole in my heart.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams took to Facebook last week to remember the late Father Hedges.
“I must have been 14 the first time I met Father Jon. I was a disciple of science and held faith in distain,” he wrote. “I am not sure that I ever could have come to believe without seeing an example of someone who lived their values. His work for the homeless, for Isla Vista, for St. Athanasius, and as chaplain for the Sheriff’s Department showed a giving, gentle spirit that complemented his strong convictions.”
Sheriff Bill Brown issued the following statement to the News-Press.
“Father Jon was a long-serving volunteer Chaplain for the Sheriff’s Office. He had a ubiquitous presence in Isla Vista and a deep and abiding love for others, especially the less fortunate who struggle for things we so often take for granted in this life: a clear and sober thought, a place to live, a meal to eat, a hot shower, treatment for a worsening ailment, a person to talk to, somebody to allay our fears, someone to love.
“He selflessly dedicated his life to three noble endeavors: helping those impacted by tough circumstances, misfortune, bad choices or calamity; supporting, nurturing and fortifying first responders who are called to help others; and serving God by doing those first two with such devotion, kindness and grace. He touched many lives and will always be fondly remembered.”
Father Hedges was married to Khouria Melissa Hedges and was the father of Ben Hedges (Viktoria) and Sarah Brasel (Zach) and grandfather to Sydney, Cole, Ethan, Noah, Luke and Elias. His hobbies included hiking, fishing and playing folk music.
Services are pending.