For half a century, Barry Hapner has shared his passion for history through teaching. While much has changed over the years, one thing has remained the same. Each fall, Hapner has shepherded a new class of students through the pages of history.
In 1966, Hapner began teaching for the Pattonville School District, a position he held for 35 years. In 1986, he joined St. Louis Community College as an adjunct instructor, teaching at STLCC-Meramec and later at STLCC-Wildwood. Collectively, these roles have enabled him to share his passion for history with thousands of students.
“I was built for teaching,” Hapner joked. “If you love what you do, it’s not work. And if you’re excited about what you’re doing, then students will want to come to your class.”
When Hapner entered the profession in the 1960s, the country was facing some serious challenges. Between race riots and anti-war protests, the day’s events spurred interesting class discussions. Today, he works to blend his knowledge of the past with current events, developing a new course that focuses on U.S. History from 1945 to present.
“I don’t want to get stagnate,” he said. “I always refer to myself as a practitioner, striving to share information in a way that students can not only comprehend it, but also relate to it and understand it.”
Outside of the classroom, Hapner is a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Despite his personal drive to be the best man he can be, his health has proved challenging. In 1995, he underwent a heart transplant. Years later, he battled cancer. In spite of the seriousness of these issues, he hasn’t lost his desire to teach.
“God gave me a heart, and I’m going to use it properly,” he said. “Whatever aches and pains I have, they’re gone when I’m in the classroom, focused on my students.”
Throughout his career, Hapner has been fortunate to meet some incredible students who have changed his life for the better. One of these students, Elise Kostial, studied with him at STLCC prior to transferring to Stanford University. Although she currently resides in Palo Alto, Calif., the two stay in touch, sharing papers and discussing world events.
“Professor Hapner is a truly dedicated teacher who shares his passion for history, as well as his knowledge of the field,” Kostial said. “Because of his class, I see the world, from colonial history to current events, from an entirely new perspective. In his class, I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be an American.”
Between his career and his family, Hapner has much to celebrate. Looking back on life, one thing stands out the most.
“I am proud of the fact that I have stayed the course,” he said. “I am a transplant patient who wants to be the best and do my best. When I look in the mirror, I don’t say, ‘Where has life gone,’ but rather, ‘what have I done with the life I have been given?’”