Nancy and Don Hoff

They aren’t technically on the Puget Sound faculty, but their example over the decades has made them revered teachers of a curriculum in loyalty, humility, and grace.

I spend my lunch hour most days tramping with a 50-pound pack on my back from campus down to Old Town and back up the 29th Street hill. I’d rather be getting my daily exercise on a trail leading to some high point in the Olympics, but the North End of Tacoma is a fine place to walk, as towns go. The sidewalks here may be one of the last places in America where strangers still greet one another with a smile and a “Hey there.”

On a matchless afternoon last summer, a day when the channel in Commencement Bay was white with glacial runoff that had come all the way down the Puyallup from Mount Rainier, I was walking along Yakima Street in a T-shirt that said in big, maroon letters stacked on my chest: “LOGGERS KICK AXE.” I’d bought it at a men’s basketball game a couple of years back, when Puget Sound was in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Near the intersection with Steele Street I saw a gentleman in sunglasses coming up the hill. I was going down, and when we met the man stopped and said, “That’s a good shirt.”

“Are you a graduate?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Class of ’50.”

I introduced myself, and so did he: “I’m Don Hoff.”

“Oh for crying out loud,” I replied. “I’m ashamed not to have recognized you.”

He touched his sunglasses. “Must be the disguise,” he said with winning good humor.

It couldn’t have been any other way.

For decades Don and Nancy Riehl Hoff have been showing people around here the power in humility, friendship, and gentle perseverance. Their lives have been so completely intertwined with the university that a list of everything they’ve done for their alma mater would take up several pages in this magazine.

They’d be embarrassed if we printed such an accounting, but if they’ll indulge us a few lines, we’d like to mention that Nancy, a true-blue (OK, true-maroon) member of the Class of ’51, retired from the university Board of Trustees in May after 28 steady, selfless years on the job. She’s been president of the alumni association and president of the Women’s League. In 1984 a grateful college presented her with its Alumni Service to the University Award for a lifetime of volunteer work that began 60 years ago when she was an undergraduate.

Don, who played on the CPS basketball team, has been on the Logger Club board since 1985. He’s chaired the John Heinrick Athletic Scholarship Committee, honoring his old coach, and was a founding member of Toppers, the original alumni athletic booster club. He was a recipient of the university Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.

The Hoffs are Tacoma people, she a teacher in the public schools and he the president of a company that provides sales representatives for hardware manufacturers. They raised four children in the North End, and their ties with family and friends run deep and long. Just one example: They’ve been sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the clans of Dick Eckert ’48 and Henry Pond ’50 for more than 50 years.

Their generosity is legendary. They’d kill us if we made a big deal of that, too, but we should at least mention the Don M. and Nancy R. Hoff Endowed Scholarship Fund and their work for the Class of ’50 and the Class of ’51 endowed scholarships.

The couple may well be the all-time greatest boosters of UPS sports. It is rumored that Don was the mysterious guy in the maroon baseball hat seen shaking hands and heartily thanking every single UPS football player as the team headed into the locker room on Oct. 8, 2005, after beating PLU for the first time in 18 years. Even if the story is apocryphal it would be in character for Don.

“Don Hoff doesn’t just attend a Logger football game or basketball game,” President Ron Thomas wrote when I asked for observations about the Hoffs. “His heart rises with every completed pass and each bruising tackle. His eyes squint in pain with each shot made by the opponent, or missed by a Logger. Nancy is no less passionate, though somewhat more philosophical in her demeanor at these contests, always by Don’s side in the bleachers or in the stands, fastening her determined gaze on the field of play as if it were history unfolding before them. And for them it is, maybe even a little more than for the rest of us whose hearts are there, too.”

Everyone, it seems, has a story about the Hoffs.

Alumni Association President Ken McGill ’61 finds it telling that they always attend the university golf tournament and at the fundraising dinner bid high on auction items. “Although I do not know that either of them have ever played golf,” he notes. (They don’t.) “Last year they went with the basketball team to Brazil and had a wonderful time mixing with the players. The year before they went to Hawai’i to join the team at a preseason tournament.”

Another longtime trustee, Bill Weyerhaeuser, says it would be hard to find another couple that exemplifies such loyalty and commitment to the university.

So, in recognition of all this, at a meeting of the trustees on May 11, a proclamation was read, which concluded: “These resolutions are presented to Nancy and Don Hoff as a warm expression of the esteem and affection in which they are held by their colleagues on the Board of Trustees and by the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Puget Sound.”

The board then rose as one and applauded for a very long time.


Chuck Luce is the editor of Arches.