Editor’s note: This story is part of series on the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame Class of 2020.
There are many successes that can be attached to the name of James E. Hoffman Jr.: the establishment of the musical theater group the Kenley Players in Warren; the Ferrara family building Valley View Department store in Brookfield, with the former Cortland Bank locating there later; the establishment of an industrial park at routes 82 and 7.
But Hoffman, who died in 1988, also had his share of failures. He never could convince his fellow citizens to incorporate the township or establish zoning or home rule.
“He espoused many causes which were not successful,” said Hoffman’s daughter, Shirley Hoffman Warren. “I know he counted them as important as the ones that came to fruition.”
Hoffman believed it was “important for him to plead his cause, no matter how unpopular it might be,” Warren said.
If he came upon a cause he believed in, “He was tenacious and he would fight that as long as he could,” said son James Hoffman III.
Hoffman Jr. was born in Sharon and moved to Brookfield with his family at age 5. His mother, who was a teacher, taught him to read before he entered first-grade, and he was promoted to second-grade once he was enrolled in first-grade.
But, being smart doesn’t make you popular or respected.
“Our father was the youngest and one of the smallest students in the school, yet, he was elected to be the class president of his junior and senior year,” Hoffman III said.
During his senior year, Hoffman Jr. was editor-in-chief of the yearbook, The Echo; participated in the debate team; acted in the senior class play; sang in the operetta and glee club; played football; and graduated as salutatorian. He graduated in 1935.
Hoffman Jr. got a political science degree at Ohio State and started law school there, but had to leave after two years when he ran out of money. He worked at National Castings in Sharon until the attack on Pearl Harbor, and enlisted in the army, rising to the rank of captain.
After the war, Hoffman Jr. went back to law school and graduated in 1946. In 1947, he established the law firm Luchette and Hoffman with Leo Luchette in Brookfield.
Hoffman Jr. served on the Brookfield Board of Education from 1953-7, and was elected the first judge of the Brookfield court when the county court system was created in 1957, serving a one-year term.
“He was so involved in community service that it was unusual for him to be at home for supper,” Warren said.
Sometimes, when he was home, it was community service-related, such as when he would host weddings while he was a judge.
“We had a little piano in the room next to where the weddings would take place and I would play ‘Here Comes the Bride,’” Hoffman said.
Or, when he coached Brookfield Optimist Club oratorical contest participants.
“My father would teach them how to prepare for their speeches, how to deliver the speeches, and he would do that one-on-one, and in the other room all the kids were playing ping-pong,” said daughter Robin Hoffman.
Hoffman Jr. and the pastors of Brookfield United Methodist Church and Brookfield Christian Church formed a committee to fight a state plan to build an overpass over the green in Brookfield Center in the early ’60s.
The plan would have “hid the green and made it almost unusable,” Hoffman III said.
The protesters stood in the face of what was seen as progress, and local apathy, but wrote letters and visited legislators in Columbus to tout the historical significance of the green.
“He was famous for, ‘We’re gonna try to do this,’” Hoffman said. “Whether or not it was successful, it was important to try what he thought was right.”