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Jay Wayne Heckler

November 14, 1939 — March 23, 2024


Jay Wayne Heckler (84) was suddenly called home to join the trumpeting angels of heaven on March 23, 2024, in Mattawan, MI. Born on November 14, 1939 in Philadelphia, PA to late parents Bessie Stillwell Heckler and Sheldon Moyer Heckler, Jay led an exemplary life of love and commitment to his surviving wife of 61 years, Diane (Thompson) Heckler. Not only was Jay an adoring husband, he was also a dearly beloved father, grandfather, uncle, and friend.

Diane and Jay met in junior high school on a church youth group hayride at their mutual church home of Grace Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown, PA.  Although, it wasn’t until his freshman year at Ursinus College (class of 1961) that Jay and Diane started dating while she was a senior at Jenkintown High School (class of 1958) where he also graduated in 1957.  From that point on, the two have been inseparable. They were married in 1962. In 1969, they expanded their family with a son, the late Jay Scott Heckler (d. 2013), and daughter, Stephanie Lynn Heckler, born in 1972.

Jay and Diane moved to Kalamazoo in 1976 from Philadelphia to grow in his career with The Upjohn Company to which he dedicated 34 of his over 50 years of employment in Pharmaceutical/Medical Sales. His career concluded with his most recent retirement from Essential Pharmaceutical at the age of 80.  Jay’s highly successful career can be attributed to his ability to form meaningful and connective relationships.  He was skilled at making one feel special and important. If he knew you, he never missed sending a birthday greeting or remembering significant details about one’s life. At Jay’s core was resilience and perseverance and a true love of sales. 

Jay and his family established firm roots in the community of Kalamazoo and his charitable and volunteer contributions are extensive. As a member of First Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo, MI, he served in numerous roles ranging from session member and Elder, to several Pastor Nominating Committees, and was a former board member of The First Presbyterian Church Free Health Clinic.  The congregation of First Presbyterian were also treated to periodic trumpet performances by Jay. 

Jay and Diane have supported the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra for decades and Jay was a past board member of both the Kalamazoo Symphony as well as the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony.  Among his numerous contributions, one of his most favorite was his work in the elementary schools with the KSO “Musical Petting Zoo” where he could share his knowledge and love of the trumpet with young students and ignite their interest in playing an instrument of their own.  

Music and, more particularly, playing the trumpet were at the core of his soul and drove his love and appreciation of the arts. Jay began playing the trumpet in 4th grade and from then on, the instrument, or at least the mouthpiece, was never far from his side.   Jay used his talents while serving as a bugler in the Army National Guard in the early 1960s. In fact, he always had his mouthpiece in his pocket just in case. He was known to join in with the band whether locally, or on business trips to New Orleans, LA where he was spotted playing with The Dukes of Dixieland, and most recently at Commander’s Palace Jazz Brunch while celebrating his 80th birthday. His most memorable musical highlights came from playing duets with his son, Jay.  He helped him along his way with the Portage Central High School Marching Band and the PCHS Jazz band during the late 1980s.  However, the father/son duo is most famous for wedding performances at 4 of the 6 nieces' weddings with renditions of Trumpet Voluntary that will live forever in our hearts and memories. 

Fondly known by his nieces and nephew as “Activities Jay”, Jay remained active and athletic his entire life both in structured sport and made-up fun.  It would be remiss to leave out Jay’s high school athletic prowess of lettering in 4 sports (football, track, basketball and baseball).

In his adult life, Jay possessed a love of golf and accomplishments of “Club Champion” at The Old York Road Country Club in the Philadelphia area, as well many years of membership and playing golf at “The Moors”, with his last season being the Summer of 2023.  Jay could also be found on the tennis court participating in various men’s leagues throughout his years.  

But, most of us enjoyed his less formal activities of beach races, Kadima Guinness book records, beach handball, arm wrestling contests and the battle of the single arm chair lift. 

To complement his active lifestyle, Jay also possessed an outstanding wit and keen sense of humor.  He was always primed to tell the latest “G” rated, yet still quite inappropriate jokes, play a prank, or just be silly. His playful and jovial spirit shined when playing with his own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephew, grandnieces and grandnephews who all benefited greatly from his charismatic charm and fun-loving interactions.  He walked the talk in his greatest life lesson of never taking oneself too seriously!

Of all these many wonderful accomplishments and characteristics, Jay will be most remembered by his love for his wife and family. Jay loved Diane and subsequently their 2 children with every ounce of his being and often quoted, “The best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother”. 

Jay’s legacy of love and exemplary life will forever be cherished by his surviving family members: wife J. Diane (Thompson) Heckler; daughter Stephanie Lynn (Heckler) Mullen and husband Mike of Birmingham, AL;  grandchildren E. Jaye, Evyn, and C. Cole Vlachos; grandchildren Ellie and Carson Heckler; nephew, Wayne W. Thompson III; nieces, Laurie (Thompson) Garner and Wendy (Thompson) Casper; nieces, Elizabeth Ann (Corliss) Silvestri, Diana (Corliss) White, Patricia (Corliss) Brynjolfsson, and Cynthia (Corliss) Dowd.

A memorial Celebration of life will be held on May 18, 2024, at 1:00 PM at the First Presbyterian Church located at 321 W South Street, Kalamazoo, MI, 49007.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to one of the following: Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo First Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, or Ministry With Community.

To view Jay’s personalized web page, please visit

To send flowers to the family in memory of Jay Wayne Heckler, please visit our flower store.


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