Quest to find inspiring Long Beach teacher ends with an emotional phone call

After years of wondering about a second-grade teacher who changed her life, Nancy Wang Yuen finally got the chance Friday afternoon to talk to the woman who made her feel special as a child.

Thanks to social media, and this story published yesterday, Yuen said a Good Samaritan had reached out on Facebook after reading about Yuen’s search for Mrs. Hoagland, her teacher at Bret Harte Elementary in North Long Beach in the early 1980s.

The woman first reached out to Mrs. Hoagland, now named Jeanne Daprano, then messaged Yuen her contact information, stating that Daprano was expecting her phone call.

“I was nervous beforehand,” Yuen said. “Afterward, I felt…I was just so moved.”

Daprano said she was honored to talk to Yuen and humbled to hear of the success she is credited with sparking. Daprano said she remembered Yuen as an outstanding student and very gifted. The conversation also left Daprano thinking of the past.

“I hardly slept at all last night,” Daprano said.

Yuen said she was shocked to learn Daprano still remembered all these details about her.

She even had enrollment cards from past students. On Yuen’s card, she wrote what language she spoke and what her parents did for work.

The year before, Yuen had immigrated from Taiwan with her dad. She credited her teacher with making the transition to a new culture an easier process through her kindness and guidance.

“I didn’t want to forget the kids,” Daprano said of the enrollment cards, which she kept when she moved from California to Georgia where she now lives.

Besides throwing birthday parties for some students and having “outdoor school” at the beach once a month, Daprano reminded Yuen that she would take students roller skating.

Daprano was also known for her hands-on approach with Cambodian refugee students fleeing the Khmer Rouge at the time. She visited their homes, made sure they signed up for health care, had a Khmer-speaking aide in the classroom and even took them on adventures.

Daprano said she taught fellowship among the students and American customs through various outdoor activities.

“I never thought that years later, that it had such an impact on them,” Daprano said.

Daprano, who is 82 and a competitive runner in Atlanta, ended up talking on the phone with Yuen for an hour, catching each other up on their lives and making plans to visit one another soon.

“It was really such a precious conversation,” Yuen said.

See a portion of the phone conversation below:

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.