MERCED -- Jim Eppler has a servant's heart, is a true people person and thrives on being around students.
Eppler, 77, retired from the Merced City School District in 2004 after a 33-year career. Two years later, he returned to Hoover Middle School, where he works in the office six hours a day as a volunteer.
"I enjoy working with at-risk kids," Eppler said. "It's been a challenge. I feel I've made an impression on some of the kids. It's definitely a reward, a good warm feeling."
During his career, he was the coordinator of federal projects, a vice principal at Hoover and Rivera middle schools, and a principal for a year at Atwater's Mitchell Senior Elementary School. He also taught physical education, history, math, science and the Opportunity School program.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, Eppler greets visitors and answers telephones at Hoover School. He also talks with parents, students, staff and "anybody else who will listen to me."
RoseMary Parga Duran, district superintendent and a former Hoover principal, said Eppler was her right arm when she was at Hoover and she can't say enough good things about him.
"He never gave up on a kid," Duran said. "He would take them under his wing and he had rowdy students who he would put on the right track. He did amazing things with children."
Eppler relishes giving students lots of positive strokes and said that's one of his true rewards. Many former students who have spouses and children of their own come up to him, and he said that's gratifying.
He said his day goes by quickly.
"I blink my eyes and it's almost time to go home," he said.
One of Eppler's hobbies is people-watching.
"I like to put them in groups," Eppler said. "I enjoy seeing different looking styles, clothing, body language and how they interact with others. The bottom line is I'm a people person and enjoy being with people. Personal interaction with kids; that's what keeps me young."
Former Hoover Principal Kathleen Crookham remembers hiring Eppler as a school counselor at Tenaya Middle School. She said he had a happy, smiling face and that students gathered around him.
"He was a great big, affable guy," Crookham said. "He has devoted his life to kids, is always even-keeled and a wonderful help."
A Catheys Valley resident since 1970, Eppler is a former chief of the Catheys Valley Volunteer Fire Department and is treasurer of the department. He also is vice chairman of the Catheys Valley Town Planning Committee.
Needless to say, Eppler has no plans of moving from the foothill community.
Eppler's hobbies include sports, traveling and reading. He has been to Colombia, Scotland and England. He volunteered with the Merced Police Department as a truant officer from 2004-06 and helped in 2008 with the California Division of Forestry.
Doug Collins, Hoover principal for four years, said Eppler has a servant's heart and is valued around the middle-school campus.
"He tries to help in any way he can," Collins said. "He truly loves kids and wants to see them succeed; that's what keeps him coming back. He's smiling all the time and the kids and staff thoroughly appreciate him."
A native of Stillwater, Okla., who moved to Tucson, Ariz., when in the sixth grade, Eppler got his bachelor's degree in 1958 in physical education and social studies. He spent 1958-60 as a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Germany.
His master's degree is in educational administration and he launched his career as a program director and camp director with the YMCA in Tucson before teaching in Arizona for eight years.
There is a $500 scholarship in Eppler's name. Award recipients must be in athletics for four years, have a 2.0 grade-point average and graduate from Hoover and Golden Valley High School.
Eppler has two grown children: daughter Torrie who is a nurse in Florida, and son Bradley who is a cowboy and heeler in team roping in Catheys Valley.
Eppler faithfully follows Golden Valley basketball, football and volleyball games because that's where his Hoover students now attend.
Tammie Calzadillas, a former Hoover principal and Merced Union High School District administrator, speaks highly of Eppler.
"When I moved to Merced and began at Hoover Middle School, I was met by this very large, intimidating man," Calzadillas said. "He watched me for a while and I watched him. Before long, he learned he had met his match in playing practical jokes, having fun and working hard. He was a man I loved and respected, and to earn his respect meant the world to me. Anytime I need a solution or just an ear to listen, I know I can count on him."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: 'Merced Matters' appears every Monday. In it we will tell the stories of Mercedians -- ordinary people doing extraordinary things, extraordinary people doing ordinary things and a lot in between. We hope you like our effort to let you know more about others in our community, and we welcome your suggestions. Please contact Victor Patton at email@example.com or (209) 385-2431 with your ideas for 'Merced Matters.'