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Beloved former Fruitvale Jr. High principal John Hefner dies

John Hefner
Posted at 1:26 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 10:41:24-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — He was a beloved principal and active member of the Bakersfield community. On Sunday, former Fruitvale Junior High principal John Hefner died from cancer, according to close friend Cathy Abernathy.

He was 74.

Hefner was known throughout the community thanks to his years of service as a junior high principal and his work as president of the Bakersfield Sister City Project Corporation.

Since he was diagnosed in November with Lymphoma, hundreds of community members have responded offering their support. After news of his death was announced, many took to social media to share their condolences and love for Hefner.

Hefner received his teaching credential from Cal State University, Bakersfield in 1976 and his Master’s in Education in 1983, according to CSUB. In 2011 he was inducted into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame.

Hefner began his 30-year-long career at Fruitvale Junior High back in 1977. His former vice-principal and former superintendent Mary Westendorf said he was an inspiration to all those who worked with him.

"Just an amazing man, a great friend," Westendorf said. "I think most of us who worked at Fruitvale were just amazed by his work and his dedication to the students."

Westendorf worked alongside Hefner for four years before she went on to become a principal herself and eventually Superintendent of the Fruitvale Union School District.

"Kids really need support and they need to know that they are valued, and John did that. He knew what kind of home they came from," Westendorf said. "He knew if they needed extra support or an extra dose of compassion, or if they just needed to be pushed a little bit more.”

Hefner went on to retire in 2007.

Not only did Hefner guide students as principal, but he was also instrumental as a History Day coach. As a coach, Hefner helped lead students to victory at the state level and compete at the national level in History Day competitions.

While helping young students succeed, Hefner also worked to bring new relationships to the community. Under his leadership, the Bakersfield Sister City Project continued to grow and explore relationships with its sister cities: Amritsar, India; Bucheon, South Korea; Cixi, China; Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico; and Wakayama, Japan.

During his time as president, Hefner worked closely alongside Mayor Karen Goh. In response to his passing, the Mayor's Office released the following statement:

John Hefner loved people, and people loved John. His palpable warmth and depth of caring made him beloved by all who knew him. John brought our world closer together and impacted countless lives through his friendships across the globe and with our sister cities. We are richer because of John. We will deeply miss our dear friend, mentor, community leader, and world ambassador.

Those close to Hefner said that plans for funeral services are still in progress. We will update the story as soon as plans are announced.