BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The community continues to adjust to a life without long-time Principal John Hefner. He died just over a week ago after a brief battle with cancer. Those close to him say his legacy will live on forever.
During his 40 year career at Fruitvale Junior High School, the former principal touched thousands of lives, in and out of the classroom, locally and globally through the campus and through countless programs he led through History Day and the Bakersfield Sister City Project.
And when he passed away from lymphoma on January 3rd, social media pages were flooded with kind words from hundreds of those close to him.
Later this week the Fruitvale School District Superintendent says the community will gather to honor his great accomplishments at his funeral. Leslie Garrison says those who feel safe to attend are welcome for the outdoor service at the Greenlawn Cemetery in Bakersfield. It will be at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday.
"I hope that we get to do something else when COVID is gone and we can gather in a larger group," said Garrison. "Because I want those who are not comfortable coming to have a chance to celebrate John's life and to try and touch on all the amazing things he's done for our community."
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.
And since Hefner touched thousands of lives, both locally and globally, the community is speaking out suggesting that the school should be renamed to, “John Hefner Junior High.” They believe this would be a great way to honor the impact that Mr. Hefner had during his 40-year career.
On Tuesday night, Frutivale School District Board Members read public comments as multiple members of the community expressed their support for the name change.