Dennis Hoerner

Dennis HoernerPhoto by Paul Neevel

“Along the way, I coined the phrase ‘The Little School with the Big Heart,’” says Dennis Hoerner, who retired in June after 20 years as head of school at Wellsprings Friends School, a nonprofit alternative high school for students who aren’t comfortable in large public schools. “Our maximum is 60 students. Two of the teachers hired in my second year are still there, even though the salary scale is low.” A native of Buffalo, New York, Hoerner studied at Harper College and Rutgers, but came back for a bachelor’s and later a doctorate in English from his hometown University of Buffalo. He taught English for 13 years at Kanazawa University in Japan. “In my second year, my wife and I were injured in an auto accident,” he says. “She died, and I was left with two- and six-year-old daughters. I felt obligated to stay and fulfill my contract.” When he did return, Hoerner taught for six years at Lindsey Williams College in Kentucky. His younger daughter returned to Kanazawa and still lives there, while his older daughter studied at the University of Oregon. “She told me that Eugene was the right place to be,” he says. “I came in ’98 and found that English teachers are a dime a dozen. When I discovered Wellsprings in 2000, it was a dream come true.” He was hired as a half-time English teacher and half-time administrator, then became head of school in February of 2001. The framed photograph he holds shows Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, a California Bay Area artist and a 2008 Wellsprings graduate, seated in front of one of her murals in south Eugene. Hoerner’s successor is former Wellsprings teacher Dante Zúñiga-West, most recently dean of humanities for Twin Rivers Charter School.