Rainbow Volunteers Honor Helenville Man and Brother For Their Service
Rainbow Volunteers Honor Helenville Man and Brother For Their Service
by Kenyon Kemnitz
When a few friends and family members gathered at Bob Hoffmann’s Helenville home this past November, it was an opportunity for them to honor a father, brother, uncle, and friend for his military service and commitment to his country.
Bob Hoffmann was finishing up his junior year of high school when his older brother, LaVerne, was drafted into the Army in May 1951. LaVerne quickly found himself on the other side of the world in the middle of the Korean War that had broken out a year earlier.
“Uncle Verne to this day still doesn’t like to eat chicken, because I guess they served a lot of chicken over there,” said Bob’s middle daughter, Kristin Guerra.
Bob and his brother kept in touch by writing letters. During that time, Bob was a star on the Jefferson High School football team. He was named the team’s most valuable player his senior year and was a first-team All-Rock Valley Conference selection as a starting right tackle. Bob was also active in school musicals, a member of the choir, and played baseball for the Eagles.
Bob graduated high school in 1952 and received a football scholarship from Carroll College in Waukesha. But before completing his degree, he felt the time was right to serve his country. He knew his potential for being drafted was high at that time, so instead of leaving it to chance, he decided to enlist in the United States Army.
The Korean War ended in July 1953, so Bob felt lucky that he wasn’t sent overseas like his brother to fight in a war that claimed almost 40,000 American lives.
“I think one of the reasons he went into the Army was because he didn’t want to be a farmer,” Guerra said. “But besides feeling like it was his duty, he was just a people person.”
LaVerne returned home and Bob remained in the United States and served two years of active duty. He trained as a radio operator in Fort Dix, New Jersey before being stationed in Fort Hood, Texas.
“I never understood growing up why he was a Yankees fan,” Guerra said. “But he’ll tell you that when they were on leave, he and other service members would go to the games and get in free.”
Bob was sent to the Army Reserve to complete his remaining service obligation for four years and played football for Army.
After being honorably discharged from the service, Bob came back to Wisconsin and started working at the Bank of Helenville as a bank teller. Soon he worked his way up to the become bank’s president and CEO and then retired after 42 years.
While raising his three daughters, Cari, Kristin, and Kaye, Bob continued with his love of sports by playing baseball for the Helenville Blue Devils, an amateur Home Talent League squad that later moved to Jefferson.
Bob also had a love for music and singing and was a member of the St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Helenville, was in a barbershop quartet, and participated in the Jefferson Senior Center choir.
“He is such a diverse man,” Guerra said. “Singing makes him happy and his strong faith is really important to him.”
Bob was well-known around town and continued to serve his community throughout the years as a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, Pheasants Forever, and Ducks Unlimited. Whenever he had the chance, Bob also enjoyed taking some time to hunt and fish. Some of his prized possessions were deer antlers and fish showcased and mounted in his family room along with a container of pheasant tails. Bob also had a way of remembering lots of facts and trivia and was great at forecasting the financial future.
“When my sister and brother-in-law were going to buy a house in Florida, interest rates were changing and they called my dad and asked him, should we wait, or should we snap it up while we can?” Guerra said. “He said ‘You should have bought it yesterday.’ He just had a smart way of predicting."
Kristin was hoping to have the veteran pinning ceremony around her father’s birthday in December but with the help of Rainbow Hospice Care decided to move it up in case his health declined further. Bob had been a Rainbow patient previously in 2014 but after some medication changes ended up making significant progress and was taken off hospice less than a year later. He became hospice eligible again within the last year.
With daughters Kaye and Kristin by his side, Bob was pinned by Jefferson American Legion Auxiliary Post 164 members, Robby Robinson, and Juan Phillips. Robinson and Phillips, who have performed veteran pinnings for over the past six years for Rainbow Hospice Care, arrived decked out in their honor guard suits. Bob received a veteran certificate of appreciation along with a fleece Army blanket that was sewn and tied together by several of Rainbow’s volunteers. Even though Bob wasn’t involved in combat, that doesn’t diminish his service.
"Not that my dad wanted recognition, but I think it’s important because I don’t think we do enough for our veterans,” Guerra said.
After engaging in some conversation at the pinning, Robby and Juan learned that LaVerne was also a military veteran. They decided it would only be fitting to pin Bob’s older brother for his service as well.
“I think it was very meaningful that they were able to shift from one brother to another and pin them both at the same time,” said family friend and neighbor Ellen Haines.
It’s a rarity for Robby and Juan to perform two pinnings in one day, especially for two brothers.
“We didn’t even realize until we were talking with LaVerne that he was a veteran too, and it was really interesting hearing some of his stories,” said Robinson.
“What I love most is acknowledging the veterans that have served and hearing everything they’ve done and the places they’ve been,” said Phillips. “They deserve the recognition that we give them, and it’s a great honor to do that. Sometimes I think the family gets more out of it than I do, but that's a good thing.”
It turned out to be a special moment for both the Hoffmann family too with both brothers honored together on the same day.
“I started to cry and was so touched that they thought to do that and my uncle being the person that he is, didn’t want to take away the spotlight from my dad, but I could tell my aunt (Susie) was touched too,” Guerra said. “It is probably one of the last things they’ll share together. I think that’s really special.”
The Rainbow Hospice Care team of Chaplain Steve Steele, social worker Kathy Boettcher, and Nurse Case Manager Sarah Padigireddy felt fortunate they were to witness the ceremony too.
“It caused me to pause and remember the sacrifice our veterans have made is a lifelong, all-encompassing sacrifice,” said Padigireddy. “Even decades after their service ends, I have seen the physical, mental, emotional, and at times spiritual toll it takes on our veterans and that is why each veteran we care for is truly a hero. It was such an honor to be present to see Bob and his brother honored. It gave a greater meaning to the privilege I had in being Bob’s nurse and caring for him each day.”
Bob passed away peacefully at his home on February 4, 2023, at the age of 88.
During Bob’s funeral, LaVerne wore the pin that he received at the pinning ceremony, showing that moment meant a lot to him too, and was a fitting way to remember his younger brother.