Weekly Feature

2007-10-17 / Lifestyles

Amherst alumni honor educators


A lumni associations have a tendency to honor alumni who have become renowned or accomplished after leaving an educational institution.

However, the Amherst Central Alumni Foundation has chosen to honor teachers who have helped their students achieve life goals.

The Educator Emeritus award is given to an individual who has been nominated by alumni or current or retired faculty of the Amherst Schools.

According to the ACAF's Web site, the award "may focus on a single encounter of guidance or inspiration that affected a student or a series of efforts over the course of a year or years that exemplifies dedication to education at Amherst Central."

Nominees may be teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. from all grades and from any of the Amherst schools.

A committee of alumni and faculty then chooses the recipient from the nominations.

"This year, due to the volume of applicants, we decided to honor more than one," said Paul Wietig, committee co-chair.

The recipients of this year's award are English teacher Jack Duffy, late basketball coach and physical education teacher Bob Hettler, high school teacher Ruth Westenfelder and elementary school teacher Elenora Hildebrand.

Jack Duffy

Before he retired in 2005, Jack Duffy's English classes had become a rite of passage at Amherst Central High School.

He spent almost 30 years teaching Advanced Placement English to seniors.

"I liked the job and the kids," he said. "It was a perfect fit. We had some of the brightest kids in Western New York. Still do."

Duffy's English classes boasted mostly fours and fives on the Advanced Placement exams every year.

"Our scores were the best in the area," he said. "I'm very proud of that."

Duffy's curriculum kept close to the classics, including the plays of William Shakespeare and the works of the ancient Greeks. He cites the reason for the success of his students as the difficulty of the material with which he presented them.

Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" also became a standard in Duffy's class.

"I threatened not to teach it anymore, but the kids who had gone through my class said that if they had to do it, the other classes had to do it, too."

Duffy is no stranger to awards for his teaching efforts. He has been the recipient of the Outstanding Education Award, presented by students, the PTA Award for Excellence, the Channel 2 Education Award and the Presidential Scholarship Award.

He was also involved in student activities at Amherst, including "Triad," a poetry journal; "Tatler," the student newspaper; The National Honor Society Bookstore; and the chess club.

"It's an embarrassment to hear nice things about you," Duffy joked about the Educator Emeritus Award. "But it is nice to be noticed in a nice way and to know that people appreciate the effort you put forth."

Since retiring, Duffy has been traveling to see his children, who live in Arizona, Manhattan and Washington, D.C.; volunteering with Habitat for Humanity; and gardening.

As far as teaching though, Duffy is taking it easy.

"I had the best job in Western New York," he said. "It won't get any better."

Bob Hettler

"He was the winningest basketball coach in New York state history," Wietig said of another of the ACAF's 2007 honorees.

Hettler coached varsity basketball for 32 years and amassed a record of 514 wins and 113 losses. This record includes his one year spent teaching at Spencer-Van Etten High School.

He retired from teaching and coaching in 1977 but returned to substitute teach and coach the junior varsity girls basketball team in 1978.

"I remember he was so down when he gave up the varsity team," said Duffy of his former colleague. "When they couldn't find anyone to coach the girls JV, he stepped in and those girls just loved him. That's the one thing that sticks out in my mind about him."

Known as "Het" to players and colleagues alike, Hettler received a number of awards, including the Buffalo Athletic Club Chairman's Award, the Section VI 50th year Basketball Coach Award and the Western New York Official Award. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame in his hometown of Springfield, Mass., the Town of Amherst Avenue of Athletes Hall of Fame, the Amherst High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Athletic Hall of Fame and the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.

According to his wife, Magdalene MacTarnaghan Hettler, Hettler was an avid golfer, traveler and 48-year member of the Silver Lake Golf Club.

"He was always doing something in the evening," she said of their 1953 decision to build a home on Brantwood Road. "He was always back and forth."

She said that what made Hettler such a good teacher was an energy that never let up as well as his ability to remember students.

"He would know when a kid made a basket and the date," she laughed. "He could recall personal facts. Sometimes he would recall too much."

Ruth Westenfelder Westenfelder taught sixth grade at the Eggert Road School from 1937 to 1975.

She taught 988 students, went through four principals, 1,520 faculty meetings and 266 Parent Teacher Association meetings.

"Nostalgia is inevitable at such a time in one's life," Westenfelder said upon her retirement. "Every one of us is a memory maker, and this beloved school and community have helped me forge a heritage of magnificent memories."

At the award ceremony held Oct. 11, Michelle Moser, a former student of Westenfelder's, nominated her for the award and delivered a testimonial about Westenfelder.

"She encouraged her students to run, then jump, then fly, both academically and emotionally," Moser said.

Moser, a mother of seven, named her youngest daughter Ruth, after Westenfelder. She noted that Westenfelder's concept of responsibility before privilege is a value that she has instilled in her own children.

She spoke about Westenfelder's devotion to the last class she taught in 1975, of which Moser was a member, when other teachers on the cusp of retirement may not have cared.

"There's something very special about evenings like this," Westenfelder said upon accepting the award. "It's always about people."

Elenora Hildebrand

A Buffalo native, Elenora Hildebrand graduated from East High School in 1931, Buffalo State College in 1935 and received her master's degree from Teacher's College Columbia in 1941.

She taught in Blasdell for nine years, Medina for two years and spent the rest of her career teaching in Amherst, where she taught home economics and nutrition.

She retired in 1973.

Hildebrand was president of the local chapter of the Home Economics Association and a member of Delta Sigma Epsilon.

In addition, she is a board member of the Amherst Alumni Association and of the Amherst Retired Teachers.

She volunteered with the Red Cross for 25 years, beginning during World War II

During her time at Amherst, she was the advisor to the classes of 1953 and 1965, and, for 14 years, made the costumes for all students involved in the ACHS operettas - which was no easy task, according to Sue Fay Allen, who delivered the testimonial for Hildebrand.

"She managed to make each one of us feel special," Allen said.

Allen also referred to Hildebrand as a "wonderful, forgiving person."

"People remember teachers for how they taught, not what they taught," Allen said.

"I enjoyed all my years teaching at Amherst," Hildebrand said upon accepting the award.

Return to top