Remembering Kathy on anniversary of her disappearance

PHOTOS PROVIDED This photo was taken on Christmas Day 1990. It was the last holiday that the Heckel family celebrated together before Kathy disappeared. From left are daughter Alicia, Kathy, John and son John.


BLANCHARD — She was a precious baby and a happy little girl.

As a teenager, she liked boys and had her heart broken once, but that didn’t dissuade her.

She grew into a beautiful young woman and became a loving wife.

Kathy and her older brother, Dan, were very close. Here they are shown standing on a boat dock. Kathy was 4 years old and Dan was 6.

Soon after, the joy of motherhood struck … twice … and she was devoted to her children.

“She was the bright light of our family,” Margaret Dolan said with a smile on her face, but sadness in her eyes as she talked about her long-lost daughter, Katherine M. Dolan Heckel.

That light went out on July 15, 1991 — that’s the day Kathy disappeared.

Then 41 years of age, she hasn’t been seen since that day 27 years ago.

“She would have loved being a grandmother,” Margaret said, sitting at the kitchen table of the family’s Blanchard home, showing a photograph of Kathy’s first grandchild. He was born on May 10, 2018, to Kathy’s son, John, and his wife, Joanne Heckel.

Kathy Heckel 8 years old when this photo was taken.

“He’s the happiest part of our lives right now,” Margaret continued, smiling broadly as she showed a stack of photographs of the little one.

The new baby has a special name — Clarence Wesley Heckel — after Kathy’s father and her son’s grandfather, Clarence “Satch” Dolan and Joanne’s grandfather, Robert Wesley Higgins.

“Clarence would be thrilled … and Kathy would be, too. They’re both smiling down on him,” she said, noting that her husband, Clarence, died in March 2012.

Talk about smiling, Margaret said Kathy must have been born with a smile on her face.

“She was a beautiful baby and Dan was the typical older brother. He just doted on her,” continued Margaret, 87, looking through a photo album of the children growing up.

“There they are…look how cute they are,” she said pointing to a photo of the two in 1955, standing on a boat dock. Dan was 6 and Kathy was 4.

She was so much fun, Margaret said, and you can clearly see that in the expression on her face in that photo.

When the next two children came along — Stephen and Cindy — Kathy was a godsend for her mother.

“She was so dependable and willing to help me with the little ones. She helped me a lot. I remember her always laughing as she helped care for them. But that was Kathy…always smiling and laughing,” Margaret said remembering Kathy mothering them like big sisters do.

Entering elementary school and junior high, she had a wealth of friends, girlfriends mostly, who spent lots of time at the Dolan home doing what girls that age do. She was also active in 4-H and loved animals, especially the family’s dogs.

During high school, she took a part-time job at Hammermill Paper Co. It was through the school, Margaret explained, but paved the way for full-time work there as a secretary after graduation from Lock Haven High School in 1969.

In 1973, Kathy married John Heckel.

Just a year later, she faced a decision that showed her true character, her mother said.

Kathy’s brother, Dan, who had been dealing with medical issues since the age of 11, was undergoing constant kidney dialysis and needed a kidney transplant.

Without hesitation, Kathy was tested. She was an identical match, and the search ended there.

“Since she was young and just married, we had some concerns about her donating a kidney … about any problems it might cause with her having children,” Margaret said.

Her husband told her it was up to her.

That’s all Kathy needed to hear.

“I’m going to do it,” she told her mother with conviction.

The transplant was successful.

“Dan, then 25, lived a good life because of that kidney,” Margaret said.

He went on to become a registered nurse and an anesthetist.

“The two of them were always so close. He died at age 60,” Margaret said.

It wasn’t long before Kathy and John became parents.

Their first child, Alicia, is 40 years old, married and living in Colorado. Her son, John, is 32 years old and living in Idaho with his wife and baby son, Clarence,

“Kathy just loved being a mother. She adored those kids. She used to call me every night. She would be in bed with John reading a story … a story that never ended. Night after night she read to that little boy. She was so devoted, so loving to them,” Margaret said.

“Family was very important to Kathy. She grew up that way. We had big doings at our house on holidays and birthdays and Kathy enjoyed those times … again, always with a smile. We were one big happy family until that day. Now those days still come and go, but she is sorely missed.

“She took the bright light out of our family.”