Ken Hechler, an urbane historian who carpetbagged his way into West Virginia’s gritty politics, where he battled destructive coal-industry practices, unsafe mining conditions and felonious county officials, died Dec. 10 at his home in Romney, W.Va. He was 102. ...
During 18 years as a Democratic congressman, 16 more as West Virginia secretary of state, and a final act as a do-gooder without portfolio, Dr. Hechler never tired of crusades.
“I used to be an agitator, then an activist,” he wrote at age 94, in 2009. “Now I am a hellraiser.” This was soon after he was arrested while protesting mountaintop removal.
In 2001, Hechler received an honorary degree from Swarthmore. He sang his acceptance speech to the tune of the College's alma mater, which he rewrote for the occasion (lyrics below). Hechler last spoke on campus in 2011 about mountaintop removal coal mining and the struggles of Appalachian communities to stop the practice.
As we leave old Swarthmore College
and this campus fair;
Join the fight for racial justice,
show the world you care!
You will be remembered one day,
not for wealth or power;
But your work for all the people,
that's your finest hour.
There's a need for more crusaders,
give your heart and soul;
Fight against the special interests,
that should be your goal.
We must get along together,
with all peoples too;
Differences should be respected,
and their points of view.
Mother Earth needs conservation,
can't you hear her cry?
We must work for preservation,
or the earth will die.
Peace and freedom for all nations;
feed and house the poor.
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater;
Hail, All Hail, Swarthmore!