On Thursday the community gathered to honor the memory of a beloved Junior High School principal. John Hefner died of cancer earlier this month. Those who knew him said his memory will live on through the lives of students he helped.
During his 40 year career in education, the former principal touched thousands of lives, in and out of the classroom. Locally and globally, he helped others through the campus and through countless programs he led through History Day and the Bakersfield Sister City Project
He passed away on Jan. 3 after battling lymphoma.
During his funeral Thursday, those close to him spoke about his generosity, love, kindness, and humility.
"I was amazed to watch him break through to even the most difficult kids, and respond to the needs of the kids who needed him the most," said Mary Westendorf, former Superintendent of the Fruitvale School District and Hefner's former vice principal. "He was not only an extraordinary educator, he was an extraordinary person. He had the energy and drive of several people. He was the eternal optimist. He saw the potential in all that he came in contact with and he strongly believed in his own ability to make a difference in others. John was not just a person who dreamed of opportunities for others, he actually worked at making those dreams a reality. John saw potential in all of the students and did everything in his power to help them be successful. I know Madeline is going to talk about History day, but it was a passion project for John and I'm not sure who enjoyed it more, him or the students."
Speaking along with Westendorf today was Hefner's grandson, former History Day students, and teachers.
"I know that I can speak on behalf of every History Day student here. He was tough he was strategic on every circumstance, but he was a lot of fun," said Madeline Abernathy, a former History Day student. "He retired from Fruitvale Junior High when I was six years old, but my mom said that he couldn't retire from History Day. He helped me through the county, the state, and the national level from the fourth grade, all the way to my senior year in high school."
"He had a heart for kids that energized him and helped him to go 12 to 14 hours a day, every day so that he never missed one of their events," continued Westendorf. "From his travels with Sister City, his accomplishments as an educator, the fishing and hunting trips that he loved so much, to the strong and long-lasting relationships he developed, John Hefner was an extraordinary man."
Hefner was laid to rest at Greenlawn Cemetery in Bakersfield.
In honor of the beloved principal, several former students have banded together calling for the name of the junior high to be changed to John Hefner Junior High.
Social media response has been overwhelming in support of the change.