Sterling College notes the passing of John Hessel, age 84, of Portola Valley, California, on April 26, 2018. John was a founding teacher of Sterling School in 1958, a boys’ preparatory school, in Craftsbury Common, Vermont.

Born in 1934 and raised in Woodmere, NY, John attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and went on to receive his undergraduate degree at Harvard. John came to Sterling School after working as a faculty member at Berkshire School.

While at Sterling, John was the Director of Athletics and Head of the Science Department. He taught biology, math, chemistry and physics and was the head coach of the basketball and baseball teams. “I had the pleasure of having both math and science courses with John, and he was coach of two teams in which I participated,” said Sterling School alumnus David Behrend ‘60. He got the best out of each student at Sterling, be it as a teacher or coach.”

“I met John Hessel the fall of 1959 on Craftsbury Common,” said Sterling School alumnus Peter McKay ‘63. “I was a freshman in Sterling School’s second year, and he was my science teacher and a passionate coach.”

“As we celebrate the 60th year since our founding, it is important that we recognize the role the pioneering faculty played in the establishment of the academic and social culture of Sterling,” said President Matthew Derr. “Having spoken to so many alumni who express such deep gratitude for John Hessel, as a teacher and mentor, I know that he will be greatly missed. We join the alumni of Sterling School in mourning his passing.”

John left Sterling in 1963 to pursue a PhD in Entomology/Zoology from the University of Arizona. He then went on to a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford in population biology. “After leaving Sterling and getting his Ph.D. he, as a scholar, was successful in a number of different avenues of life where discovery, exploration and critical thinking were required,” shared Behrend. In addition to teaching and research, John had a professional life working for non-profits. Upon retirement, his fly fishing hobby grew into a business making custom fly fishing rods. John was also an avid traveler with an interest in wildlife photography. “I particularly enjoyed his extraordinary bird photography shot in Kenya in recent years, and I recommend these photographs to you as a means to know John,” said McKay. “John would have smiled at us all – ironically, of course – to see his many talents spelled out at his departure from us, as we do here. He, unlike many who claim to be modest, was modest to a fault.”

John is survived by his wife and travel companion of forty-two years, Aileen; his children Doug Hessel (Teri) of Aptos; Geoffrey Hessel of Redwood City; Stephen Hessel of Mill Valley; Lucy Hessel of San Carlos; step-son Gregory Wimmer of San Francisco, step-daughter Diana Bariteau of Menlo Park; sisters Mary Dodge of Portola Valley and Sue Hessel of Lyme, Connecticut; and seven grandchildren.

“I saw him last when I met him and Aileen on the last day of February 2015, in a beautiful, cool and windy San Francisco,” said McKay. “Like many of my Sterling School colleagues, I was also entertained by John’s almost daily stream of emails documenting some absurdity from our mutual past, and our present, over the last 15 years, which showed his dry sense of humor to good effect.” Behrend added, “(My wife) Dona and I had the opportunity and good fortune of seeing Aileen and John twice at their home outside Palo Alto, in Portola Valley. A genuinely caring, good man has left us.”

John’s legacy among the Sterling School alumni remains strong. “Let me begin my farewell to John by noting his integrity, which lay in his always speaking truth to you, especially if he cared for you, with the gift of his humanity, his calm and reasoned curiosity about your life, the way he knew you, and above all the feeling that there was a deep friendship, a kinship between you both, which now with his death, brings sadness and grief for me and many other Sterling School Pioneers,” shared McKay.

Sterling College will honor John Hessel at the Sterling School Reunion in Craftsbury Common scheduled for October 12-14, 2018 with a dinner in his name. Gifts made to Sterling College in his memory will make possible the John Hessel Scholarship to benefit Sterling College students possessing a similar passion for ecology as John expressed in the ecological movement of the 1970s, when he educated students and the general public about the negative effects of unregulated human activity on the planet. We hope he would be honored by this scholarship that will continue his legacy in educating students.

For more information about attending the Sterling School Reunion, please contact Micki Martin, Director of Advancement Services at mmartin@sterlingcollege.edu or 802-586-7711 x101

John Hessel’s Obituary


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