Halls of Fame
Santa Ana College was a very different place when Dan Hohneker, 83, first stepped on campus as a freshman in 1953.
After serving seven years in the Navy, Hohneker was stationed at a naval base near the Great Lakes when he reached a fork in the road.
“My options were to re-enlist in the Navy and be sent to Korea or to be discharged; my wife was pregnant with our first child, so it wasn’t a difficult choice,” says Hohneker, a native of Dumont, N.J. When he learned that his mother-in-law was moving here, California sounded pretty good to him, too.
His decision proved to be a blessing for Santa Ana College and thousands of students whose lives he touched during his 32-year teaching career, 1965-1997, followed by 10 years tutoring students in the study of economics.
Of his early years teaching, Hohneker says, “I was particularly proud of our el Don Week, when we celebrated our rich Hispanic Heritage, and the Bill of Rights Week sponsored by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge. We won the Valley Forge Award several times, and every year our activities were recorded in books that were sent to the Freedom Foundation.”
While his knowledge of history, economics and social sciences is impressive, it is Daniel Hohneker, the individual who is a true treasure. “A real-life George Bailey,” says Jorge Vargas, who works in the Tutorial Learning Center and who has personally experienced the power of Mr. Hohneker’s care and concern for students in difficult circumstances.
“Only at Santa Ana College could I, a convicted former gang member, graduate from a continuation school, cross paths with an economics professor with impeccable integrity…who believed in me when others did not, and lit a spark of desire for knowledge in me that never can be extinguished.
“As I think of Dan, the last scenes of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ come to mind. I envision the angel Clarence telling Dan what others’ lives would be like without his existence. Dan truly practices Tim Russert’s mantra, ‘The best exercise for the human heart (is to) reach down and pick someone up,’’ Vargas adds.
Hohneker has always believed in his students and in the power of education, and tried to lead by example.
After receiving his A. A. degree in Social Sciences in 1955, Hohneker went on to pursue a B.A. degree in History at California State, Long Beach, followed by an M.A. in Social Science with an English minor.
In 1964 Hohneker began serving on the board of then OCTFCU (now Schools First) Credit Union, and in the late 1970s he decided to pursue a certificate in credit union management. The program, taught by the Credit Union National Association Management School, required three weeks of intense study for three summers on campus at Pomona College—not an easy commitment for a man with a family who also was teaching and serving as chair of the combined departments of Economics and Geography, a position he held for 32 years until his retirement in 1997. Sharon Whelan, dean of humanities and social sciences, says, “He spent countless hours recruiting, interviewing and assisting with the hiring of our adjunct staff.”
He also served five terms as Chairman of the Board at the Credit Union, as well as terms on multiple boards and committees, and is a long-time member of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Ana, where his priority was the scholarship program that gives so many students an opportunity to study at Santa Ana College.
But impressive as they may be, his list of accomplishments pale beside the respect and praise by students and colleagues heaped on this man who says, “All I wanted was to be a good teacher.”
And a good teacher he has been in the best tradition, imparting not only knowledge about the subjects he taught but also life guiding principles. “Dan taught us that economics is not about profits, but about people,” says Mr. Vargas. “Embedded in his DNA is economics and finance and it is guided by the axiom ‘character is king.’”
Hohneker himself provided insight into the principles that he lives by: “I carry a copy of the eight Beatitudes (The Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10) wherever I go. They are in my pocket, on my wall and on my desk. I read them to help me do the right thing in difficult circumstances.”
And that is consistent with an assessment by Dean Whelan, “Dan Hohneker represents the best of Santa Ana College. He has always been proud of and grateful for the education he received at this institution. His mission has been to provide the same opportunities to newer students. He has ‘paid it forward’ as a way of ‘paying back’ this college that is so dear to his heart.”
As loyal and steadfast personally as he is professionally, Hohneker has been married to his wife for 58 years and has influenced innumerable students, friends, and colleagues who share their love and appreciation for all that Dan Hohneker has done for Santa Ana College—and for them.