Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, a fixture in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara County who dedicated himself to a life of service to others, died Thursday afternoon while in hospice care.
Universally and affectionately known as “Father Jon,” Hedges had been seriously ill in recent weeks, and died at Sarah House, surrounded by his family.
Hedges, 73, was an assistant pastor at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church for many years, while serving in a variety of pastoral roles throughout the county.
He was a volunteer chaplain with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol and several other agencies, and also was a member of the Isla Vista Community Services District.
Hedges also served with Doctors Without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine, among countless organizations.
Over the years he traveled throughout the country to provide aid and comfort to victims of hurricanes, tornadoes, shootings and other calamities.
The son of a Navy officer, he moved around a lot during his youth, and came to Isla Vista in 1968.
Hedges earned a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from UC Santa Barbara, and obtained his master’s in orthodox theology from St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology.
He was a board-certified crisis chaplain, a certified trauma responder and an emergency medical technician, who responded to disasters, large and small, in the community.
Hedges was especially known for his work assisting the homeless community and the downtrodden, and helped develop St. Athanasius Church’s St. Brigid Fellowship.
He is survived by his wife, Khouria Melissa Hedges, two grown children and six grandchildren.
Tributes to Hedges poured in on social media and elsewhere.
“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,” he wrote.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley praised Hedges as a “healer,” and said his passing “leaves a permanent hole in my heart.”
“I loved Father Jon because of what he did for the most vulnerable members of our community and for how he inspired the most powerful,” Dudley said in an email to Noozhawk. “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.
“I love how he brought people together who agreed upon nothing besides their love and respect for him.”
Sheriff Bill Brown said Hedges “touched many lives and will always be fondly remembered.”
“He had a ubiquitous presence in Isla Vista and a deep and abiding love for others,” Brown added, “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.”
Jonathan Abboud, general manager of the community services district and a trustee at Santa Barbara City College, remembered Hedges as “a moral compass for Isla Vista and the greater Santa Barbara community.”
Beyond all his good works, Hedges ended up in the news in 2016 when he was seriously injured in an attack at his home by a UCSB student.
The 22-year-old student, who apparently was under the influence of drugs, came to Hedges’ door in Isla Vista asking for help, then proceeded to assault him.
Services for Hedges were pending Thursday night.