Maurice Hesse, who served as superintendent of O’Fallon Township High School for 30 years before his retirement in 1992, died on Tuesday at the age of 87.
Hesse was the first full-time superintendent at District 203 and remained a staple in the O’Fallon education community, spending 36 years in the field professionally and, after retirement, continuing to serve on the Board of Education.
“He was a tremendous leader,” said Mayor Herb Roach in a phone interview Thursday. “He set a good path for education in O’Fallon.”
Roach said he considered Hesse a true gentleman, someone who was always willing to listen to others, no matter their differing viewpoints on certain issues.
“He was someone you could just sit down and talk to and he’d hear you,” said Roach, who said he had a working relationship with Hesse that lasted close to 50 years.
Before Hesse was named superintendent in 1962, O’Fallon had one person serve part-time at the high school and part-time at the elementary school.
An O’Fallon native, Hesse graduated as valedictorian of OTHS and attended Illinois State Normal University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1957. After obtaining a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Illinois in 1957, Hesse returned to his hometown to serve as principal in 1960.
Hesse cared deeply about the school’s mission and did a “wonderful job” guiding the OTHS student base through the societal changes they faced during his 30 years, said Class of 1983 graduate Brian Keller.
“His heart was always with O’Fallon education,” Keller said of Hesse. “He defined O’Fallon and really set the tone for the standard of education.”
According to U.S. Census figures, O’Fallon grew from a town of little more than 4,000 people when Hesse became superintendent to nearly 17,000 by the time he retired. O’Fallon has about 30,000 citizens now.
Keller said Hesse and his long-time principal Bob Bellina personified OTHS and even remembered students like him for years afterward. Bellina died Aug. 15, 2018.
“He had integrity ... he was just genuine and personable,” he said.
During the 1986-1987 school year, OTHS was named one of the 271 secondary schools in the nation to receive the National Excellence Award by the U.S. Department of Education. Hesse, who was superintendent at the time, had the opportunity to attend the awards ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in Washington D.C. to accept the honor.
Upon retirement, Hesse continued his involvement with the community, serving as a member and past president of the O’Fallon Rotary Club, and as a member in the O’Fallon Historical Society, Dania Shrine Club, St. Clair County Retired Teachers, O’Fallon Masonic Lodge No. 576, Scottish Rite, Ainad Shrine and Ainad Shrine Color Guard, Eastern Star and Senior Citizens.
In 1985, Hesse was awarded the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce award for community service.
He and his wife, Dolly, also were members of the O’Fallon Hisotrical Society since its inception, Keller said.
“He was very involved because he was from here,” said Keller, the society’s president. “He was very big in giving back to the community ... I think it’s fair to say it’s the end of an era in O’Fallon.”
Mayor Roach said that though O’Fallon may be losing a local leader in education, Hesse was able to prepare the town for the future.
“Through his leadership, he developed others who have that same spirit and will carry that on,” he said. “He was the one who built that stimulus for good, solid educational programs in O’Fallon.”
Visitation: Hesse’s family will receive friends from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, and after 10 a.m. on Saturday at Wolfersberger Funeral Home at 102 W. Washington St. in O’Fallon.
Funeral: 11 a.m. Saturday at Wolfersberger Funeral Home. The burial will follow at O’Fallon City Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Maurice A. Hesse Scholarship Fund or to the O’Fallon Historical Society.