Joseph Loftin had his work cut out for him when he became headmaster of Wasatch Academy in December 1988.
Practically in the same breath that the board of trustees announced that Loftin would fill the headmaster position, it said that the more-than-a-century-old private boarding school could fold in February.Loftin had been put in hastily as headmaster of the central Utah school after the old headmaster, discouraged by the school's declining enrollment, quit in the middle of the school year. The number of students at the school, with a capacity for 185 boarding students, had dropped to an all time low of 68.
Since that fall, the school's enrollment has more than doubled. This year, the school has 174 students and the amount of private funding has nearly tripled. Everyone at the school credits Loftin for the drastic improvement, except Loftin, a modest Midwesterner who credits teamwork for the school's turnaround.
"He's done tons. He brought it up from a failing school," said Barbara Larsen, who works in the school's alumni office. Larsen and other staff members gush about Loftin. Not only has he saved their school, but he's an unbelievably nice guy. Along with serving as father of the school, Loftin is a single father and dotes on his second-grade daughter, Allison.
"He's just such a caring guy," said Larsen, who experienced Loftin's kindness firsthand when her husband, Lynn, fought cancer. Whenever an ambulance came to take Lynn Larsen to the hospital, Loftin would drop whatever he was doing to go there with him.
This eagerness to help, along with Loftin's many other contributions to the school, were recognized recently when CBS' "This Morning" honored him as the Hero of the Day.
Loftin only consented to the honor, one faculty member quipped, because the school would benefit from the publicity.
In addition to being headmaster, Loftin is the school's head cheerleader. "This is a gem of a school," he said, listing the school's 6-to-1 student-teacher ratio, the variety of students, the breadth of classes offered, the idealistic faculty and the beauty of the campus in Mount Pleasant.
All of this, he said, has a magical effect. Students who aren't interested in learning become motivated; those who already love to learn reach greater heights; all of them graduate with a greater understanding of human differences.
Loftin's secret, the one that drove him to save Wasatch Academy and to continue to devote his life to students, is his strong belief in human potential.
"There's greatness in every human being," he said.
Firm in this belief, Loftin convinced a discouraged student that she could accomplish her dreams. He asked her: What is it you're wanting? She told him that she wanted to be accepted to a prestigious university.
This fall, that student entered Stanford University. Such triumphs have convinced him, said Loftin, that "teaching is the greatest profession."