A fight with cancer is never easy, but Hofmann did it with grace and wit. Didn’t want sympathy, and didn’t talk much about it after his diagnosis in 2008.
“He was losing weight,” recalls Sam Madonia, the morning host on WFMB-AM who worked with Hofmann for 15 years. “People would say ‘What kind of diet are you on?’ And he’d say ‘Not the kind you want to be on.’ He never complained. He never, ever felt he got shortchanged.”
As Hofmann’s health deteriorated, colleagues told him they wanted to do an on-air benefit program to help his family.
“It was going to be a huge benefit – it was one that was going to last 10 hours,” Madonia recalls. “There were major players in town involved. We were going to raise lots of money. Jeff just passed on it. He turned it down.”
That, say those who knew him best, was typical Hofmann, a man who treasured his privacy and never took on airs.
Dave Comstock, program director at WFMB-AM, easily recalls the day he met Hofmann in 1984. He’d just landed a gig as an afternoon radio host, and Hofmann, who worked the night shift, was showing him around the building. Unbeknownst to Comstock, Hofmann had applied for the same afternoon shift in an effort to work more normal hours.
“He told me ‘I was up for this job,’” Comstock said. “I said ‘I had no idea, man.’ He said ‘Don’t worry about it, I don’t hold anything against you.’ And it wasn’t anything that he ever held against me. It was just his nature.”
The two became friends, the sort who could engage in the kind of twisted teasing that only trusted friends can. Hofmann was known as a storyteller, but unlike so many other storytellers, his tales never changed – if the fish was a foot long the first time, it was still a foot long 10 years later during the umpteenth telling.
Hofmann came to Springfield from Belleville after starting his broadcasting career in Missouri. He and his wife, Mary, adopted their daughter, Kate, as a baby from overseas in the mid-1980s, Comstock says, and it changed Hofmann’s life in more ways than one. Kate, it turned out, had cerebral palsy.
“They found out six months after they had her here,” Comstock says. “You never heard him complain. She was just his daughter.”
Hofmann left the radio business in 1990 to become development director for United Cerebral Palsy Land of Lincoln. His job was raising money.
“He’d go around asking for donations,” Comstock says. “He wasn’t shy about it – he was living it. He was just such a personable guy. He did it in such a Hofmann way. You didn’t mind.”
Hofmann returned to radio in 1998, becoming news director at WFMB-AM as well as Ed McMahon to Madonia on the morning show. The chemistry was perfect, with Hofmann becoming something of a leveling force.
“He never wanted to be the guy out in front, he wanted to be the foil,” Madonia says. “He perceived his role as a number-two ad libber, but he had an incredible sense of humor. He believed what he believed and he’d make a point, but he didn’t want to argue about it. We would be on remotes and people would bring food. We’d all rant and rave about the food and he’d say ‘It’s OK.’ That’s kind of the way he looked at life: I’ve had better and I’ve had worse. I’ve not met two or three people in my life like this.”
Madonia and Comstock agree that Hofmann had no enemies. But he did have one off-air claim to fame.
Hofmann, a Cardinals fan, was an usher at Busch Stadium during the 1968 World Series, when Detroit Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich outdueled Cardinals ace Bob Gibson in the seventh game. Look closely at a 1969 Lolich baseball card, the picture taken during that classic Series the prior fall, and there’s Hofmann in the background, peeking out from between the pitcher’s legs as Lolich winds up.
The card, blown up to an eight-by-ten, now hangs at WFMB-AM offices in Southern View. And when Comstock spoke at the funeral Mass, he borrowed a line from Field of Dreams, telling mourners to remember Hofmann when the sky at the ballpark is so blue that it hurts to look at it.