By Joe Rutherford and Michalea Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Jornal
TUPELO – Tupelo is mourning the sudden loss of one of the city’s biggest cheerleaders.
NMMC Wellness Center Director Hank Boerner, who shared his energy and talents with organizations around the city, died Thursday morning from severe septic shock.
“He was just a selfless individual who put others first,” said the Rev. Tom Groome of First Presbyterian Church where Hank and Helen Boerner are members. “It’s just unbelievable how many lives he actually touched.”
Boerner, who was 57, served as the co-chairman of the Healthy Tupelo Task Force and was a leader in the 2011 All-America City effort. Flags will fly at half staff in Tupelo to honor Boerner through the weekend.
“He was the epitome of the Tupelo Spirit,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr.
Boerner, who grew up in a small coastal South Florida town, found his calling in medical fitness centers. He and his wife Helen came to Tupelo in 1992.
“We were shocked and devastated to learn of Hank’s passing this morning,” said John Heer, president and chief executive officer of North Mississippi Health Services. “Hank was a great leader and a good friend.”
Under Boerner’s tenure, the health system expanded wellness services at all of its community hospitals.
“Hank was Mr. Fitness to me. Every aspect of his being was to promote health, fun and innovation in fitness,” said Steve Altmiller, president of North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo. “His presence will be greatly missed, but his spirit of fitness will always continue to be present.”
Boerner had a hand in founding Project Hope, which assists heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients in the region, as well as efforts to add a skate park, three disc golf courses, 5k cross country trail and a fitness center at Tupelo High School.
“He was an advocate for everything that had to do with the health and fitness of the school system,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden.
In addition to his role as fitness advocate-in-chief, Boerner volunteered across the community with his church, Shepherd Center, the Boy Scouts and the United Way.
“Hank was a man of impeccable integrity who loved his Lord, his family and this community,” said NMMC Community Health director Liz Dawson, who co-chaired the Healthy Tupelo Task Force with him. “He has always been such a servant leader and he will be sorely missed.”
Boerner’s service extended beyond Northeast Mississippi. He served as chairman of the Medical Fitness Association and was honored in 2011 with the group’s Pioneer award, and was an integral part of a First Presbyterian water and medical mission project in Guatemala.
“Hank packed a lot of life into a lot of service,” said Mary Ann Plasencia, Tupelo Public School District liason, who served on a number of community projects with Boerner. “Countless people would attest to that.”
Boerner is survived by his wife Helen, and two children, Hunter Boerner Harrington, who works for Mississippi State University Department of Athletics, and Hal Boerner, who is a student at Mississippi State.
The funeral service will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church. Visitation is from 5 to 7 p.m. today and 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday in First Presbyterian’s McFadden Hall.