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School mourns loss of popular teacher

Times Staff Writer

Culinary arts teacher Tania Hurd chaperoned the senior prom Friday night, dancing with students at Universal Studios’ Globe Theatre and posing for pictures in a long black gown. Less than 24 hours later, those same students would be creating a memorial of notes, flowers and candles for her outside John Burroughs High School in Burbank.

“I can’t believe this. I wish it was all a bad dream. You were the best teacher ever,” wrote one student, who did not leave a name. “Thanks to you I made it out of high school. You were more than just a teacher; you were a friend like a mom.”

The vivacious 46-year-old teacher was one of three people killed Saturday in a helicopter crash on Santa Catalina Island. Her family spent many weekends moored at Two Harbors, typically traveling on their sailboat, the Sabrosa. Hurd sometimes got seasick, so when the opportunity arose to travel by helicopter instead, she jumped at the chance, said Dena Williams, an art and parenting teacher at Burroughs who was a close friend.

“She had always wanted to go on a helicopter ride,” Williams said. “She was so excited.”

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Hurd had worked at the school since 2003, drawn to teaching teens how to cook because she worried that today’s youth were exposed to too much junk food and microwaved meals, and that families no longer sat together around the dinner table, said her father, Charlie Hurd of Fallbrook.

She restarted the culinary arts program at the school, and administrators figured there might be enough interest to fill three classes. The class grew so popular that Hurd taught six sections, and enrollment had to be restricted to juniors and seniors.

“You just felt her smile, her demeanor; you felt just charged,” Principal Emilio Urioste said. “She made her students all feel like, ‘I’m learning something. I have something to contribute. I can do this.’ Even a klutz like me, she would make you feel like you could be the Galloping Gourmet.”

Anthony Doto, 18, said he took Hurd’s class because he figured it would be an easy elective. But he became enthralled by the international cuisine she taught her students, as well as by Hurd, from whom Doto would seek advice about girls or problems with his parents.

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“Honestly, she’s one of the most caring women I’ve ever met,” said Doto, a senior. “I told her she was like a second mom.”

Hurd’s classroom remained closed Tuesday -- her colleagues reluctant to open the door. Instead, her classes met in the library, where students quietly remembered her. Some met with grief counselors. Others wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk outside her classroom or added to the growing memorial at the school’s entrance.

On a red graduation cap, one student wrote, “Ms. Hurd, we miss you! I owe this cap to you and much more.”

Burroughs graduate Mike Allen left a large silver medallion from the California School of Culinary Arts. “You are the reason I earned this. You deserve this more than me. Thanx for being an inspirational teacher,” he wrote.

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Hurd is survived by two children, one a son who is a freshman at Burroughs; her partner of nearly two decades, Wayne Noecker; Noecker’s four older children; her parents; and three siblings. A memorial service is tentatively planned for Friday, and the school will honor her at a later date.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com


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