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Jean Hoerni appears very little in the book, but his support of Mortenson’s
project provides the initial boost that allows Mortenson to succeed. In addition,
his cantankerous attitude provides an important contrast to Mortenson’s affability.
Hoerni’s warning to Mortenson not to “screw up” the Korphe school begins a process
in which Mortenson learns to take himself and his mission more seriously. The
project, Mortenson realizes, should not be treated as just another adventure. As
their relationship develops, Hoerni’s faith in Mortenson becomes both a support and
a motivation. Like Mortenson, Hoerni is an eccentric who lives on his own terms, but
he is also a humanitarian who takes pride in the accomplishments made possible by
his money. One of the most touching parts of the book takes place when Mortenson
nurses the dying Hoerni, and Hoerni expresses his feelings of fatherly love for the
younger man. Even after his death, Hoerni has a great influence on Mortenson and his
work, not only through his endowment to the CAI, but also through the work done by
his wife, Jennifer Wilson, and her sister, Julie Bergman.