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An Annual Feast

An Annual Feast

It wasn’t love at first sight, but there was chemistry that led to a first date for pre-med majors Chester (Chet) and Marilyn (Mac) Mackenzie Harter.

“Working late in the chemistry lab, we missed dinner in the Commons,” said Chet ‘55. “That offered me the opportunity. And we had a great time because I did all of the talking.”

“Don’t believe it,” Marilyn ‘52 said, smiling. 

That first date led not only to a humor-filled, 62-year marriage, but an even longer commitment that wasn’t part of their vows—annual attendance at the University’s Feast of Lights. 

“There was never an actual decision to always go,” Chet said. “But we always went and drove vast distances to do it.”

Marilyn came to Redlands in 1948 on a parental mandate to attend college in Southern California and study music, though she declared a science-based major. 

Director J. Williams Jones debuted the Feast of Lights that year, and Marilyn remembered it as part of required chapel. 

Chet heard of Redlands from a high school recruiter and came to the University in 1950 at the urging of the men’s dean. He is not only the talker of the couple but also the singer. He studied under Jones and sang in the Feast of Lights after becoming “hooked.” 

“Albert Crum ’53, ’74 told me I had to go,” he said. “I thought it was beautiful beyond description, emotionally marvelous.”

“I still remember the music of my year—‘Te Deum laudamus,’ and ‘We Saw Three Ships.’ Jones’ emphasis was on detail, and the precision of his Feast was noteworthy,” he said. 

Chet still has letters Marilyn wrote him during their summer apart and remembers proposing to her in Sylvan Park. She declined. 

“I was thinking medical missions work,” said Marilyn, who was unsure Chet was equally devoted to serve God, but was ultimately convinced.  They married while still in school and lived in Vet’s Village on campus. 

“We didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Marilyn said. Yet they went on to earn master’s degrees in seminary. Chet became a pastor and Marilyn continued earned a second master’s degree in library science. They had five children.

The Feast of Lights became one of many family traditions. Son Chet III said he has attended at least 35 times, and his parents have hosted hundreds of family members, friends and church members to the Feast throughout the years. 

To date, nothing has kept the couple from attending the Feast, including a 2008 car accident on the way to the event. “We told the emergency room staff to hurry up and check us out, and then we rented a car and still got there in time,” Chet said. 

Marilyn said the feast is now “more flamboyant” than when it began. “But the choice of music this last year was just as good as any year. In the early days, they didn’t have the orchestra. Jeff (Rickard, the Feast director who followed Jones) added that and the community choir.”

“Nicholle (Andrews, the current director of the Feast) added a European flair. I like it. I have liked them all,” Chet said. 

Written by: Jennifer M. Dobbs