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51 years later, professor is still teaching this student

I enrolled in a marriage, family and career course at Orange Coast College in the spring of 1967.

A kind and generous young professor by the name of Robert Hoeppner taught the class. He was 35 and a new father.

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I was about to be married and had lots of questions. The material that Professor Hoeppner presented was of considerable benefit to me. He demonstrated great personal insight and had wonderful real-world stories to share.

We took a number of evaluative tests to discover our academic strengths and weaknesses; to align our interests and abilities with possible career paths; and to uncover our talents, gifts and personality traits.

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My professional career — 37 years as OCC's director of community and public relations — ended up being shaped to a significant degree by Hoeppner's curriculum. Myriad details about my career, of course, had yet to be sorted out. In the years ahead I was to jump through a host of personal, academic and professional hoops.

But, Jim Carnett discovered himself in that classroom and had an initial encounter with a multitude of career options. Later decisions were based upon that bedrock.

Thanks, Bob Hoeppner.

Hoeppner, in his quiet way, took time to answer detailed questions, provide advice and suggest directions.

I naturally expected this would be a one-off life experience. Little did I know that Bob and I would be friends for 50-plus years.

I joined OCC's staff four years later, after earning a bachelor's degree. Four years beyond that I completed my master's. I couldn't have done it without Bob's early guidance.

In my return to Coast, I had the deep satisfaction of reconnecting with my "old" mentor. Bob put in 31 years as an Orange Coast College professor and counselor. He retired in 1995 at the age of 62.

Though we've seen each other only intermittently since his retirement — and mine 13 years later — we've remained in touch. He's been my friend and colleague all these years, but I can't help seeing him first and foremost as my college professor. Now 85, Bob and his wife, Camille — Oregonians by birth — still live in Orange County.

I wrote a column a couple of weeks back detailing my trials with Parkinson's disease. It was a bit of a "poor me" soliloquy. Bob responded with a sensitive and upbeat note that put my health challenges into perspective. Once again, my professor is teaching me an important lesson. If Bob Hoeppner can scale his Mt. Hood of medical infirmities, I can face my molehill of trials.

"As I read your column, I couldn't help but feel that we are both on the same journey, although medically we have our own pathways," he observed.

He went on to mention his several battles with prostate cancer; stage 4 colon cancer; numerous surgeries for skin cancer; cataract surgery; 2 lung surgeries; 4 surgeries for radiation cystitis of the bladder; nephro tubes inserted into his kidneys; and 100 hours of hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments. I'm a slacker by comparison.

Bob continues to stand as my counselor, teacher and role model.

"As you say," he continued in this latest missive, "it's difficult to lose control (of your life) while facing new boundaries each year. I am thankful each day for those I come in contact with who are willing to give a helping hand when it's necessary."

What a fantastic attitude … but that's so Bob.

"It amazes me to look in the mirror and wonder who that old man is and how did he get there so soon? However, I must be thankful to have lasted this long. I'll be 86 in March. Each day I thank God for his many blessings while questioning why I'm still here and what my mission is."

That's so Bob, too. He's committed to moving forward in his mission — notwithstanding serious physical complications. I take those words to heart. I still have breath, don't I? I'm on a mission, too.

Bob Hoeppner faces massive trials, but he's up to the task.

And he's still teaching this student ... 51 years later.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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