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'He Was More Than a Teacher'

Fountain Valley Students, Faculty Honor Carl Hoist

March 06, 1999|ELAINE GALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One after another, teachers and students alike, they trooped up to a podium with crumpled tissues in hand to offer their tributes: gifts of words and music, little gestures meant to somehow repay Carl Hoist for all he had given.

"He was a genuine hero," said Principal Gary Ernst.

"He was like another father to me," said Michael Spandorf, 17.

"He gave us a reason to go to school," said Jessica Teter, 18.

Amanda Uribe played a ragtime tune on the piano and asked the audience to think "happy thoughts."

It was a memorial service--a gathering in the gymnasium of Fountain Valley High School where more than 700 mourned Hoist, a history and government teacher who died at the shockingly early age of 53 of a heart attack.

"We were all crushed when we found out Carl died," said Assistant Principal Diana Carey. "We wanted to know why something like this would happen to a 53-year-old who was a picture of health."

"It's amazing, the love for this man," said faculty member Eva White.

Described as "tan and robust," Hoist died Feb. 13 in his Huntington Beach home. A former karate teacher and avid body surfer, Hoist was known to take his students to the beach to supervise them until they learned to catch a wave.

In a private ceremony with family members last month, Hoist was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the surf near his home, where he had hoped to retire, surf, roam the shoreline and chat with the locals.

Students of all stripes--band members, cheerleaders, theater rats and rebels--voiced respect and a feeling of connection with Hoist, who always had an open door and an encouraging smile.

"I would like to be like Carl and have the kind of influence with kids that he did," said Principal Ernst.

When senior Michelle Vance got her acceptance letter from Loyola Marymount College the week after Hoist died, she considered it another gift from her favorite teacher, who had written her a letter of recommendation and helped her with her personal essay.

"He was more than a teacher; he was my friend," said Vance, who sobbed through the service, pulling tissues out of a box. "He always made a point to make you feel important."

Hand-lettered signs in Hoist's honor covered the red-brick walls of the school's courtyard. "Hey Dude: How are the waves in heaven?" read one sign in colored markers on butcher paper. A yellow sign had Hoist's trademark exclamation: "Oh my gracious!" and was covered with Skittles wrappers, the favorite candy of a man who was allergic to chocolate.

Many at the service wore blue, Hoist's favorite color, or Hawaiian shirts, his favorite fashion statement. Students took turns signing Hoist's classroom podium--plastered with surfing stickers--for presentation to his family.

The messages were plaintive: "We love and miss you, Mr. Hoist."

Marsha Hoist, his wife of more than 22 years, attended the ceremony with their son, John, and daughter, Lisa Daniels.

"It's nice to see that he was so loved," said Marsha Hoist, who stopped to hug and kiss students who approached her with cards and notes. "He cared so much about these kids."

A lifelong resident of Huntington Beach, Hoist graduated from Huntington Beach High School in 1963 and then earned a bachelor's degree from Cal State Long Beach and a master's degree in educational media. He had taught at Fountain Valley High School for 31 years.

Faculty members described a humorous, quiet leader who had an enviable ease with his students, going out of his way to listen, advise and help them in a pinch.

Like Brian Shaughn, who was a senior at Fountain Valley High School when his parents moved out of the district. Every school day for six months, Hoist went out of his way to give Shaughn a ride to school, allowing him to graduate with his class.

Now 34 and a manager at Federal Express, Shaughn drove from Pasadena to be able to talk about Hoist's influence on his life. He cried through his talk, once stopping to brace himself on the podium and catch his breath.

During the service, audience members wiped wet eyes on their sleeves or the backs of their hands, and clutched the blue program with photos of Hoist and quotes from students: "If you have time, do you mind being my guardian angel?" and "Thanks for the memories, Mr. Hoist. Enjoy the surf up there!"

The school has set up the Carl Hoist Memorial Scholarship Fund, and donations can be sent to the school's financial office.

"We have to do something to heal and move on," said Principal Ernst. "We have to try to bring closure to this."

Still, it's a heavy loss for many students, including Spandorf.

"The deepest thing in everybody's life was Mr. Hoist," he said. "The school won't ever be the same."

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