"Things are changing so fast. If you’re anything like me, I’ve always considered the future as sort of out there somewhere - rather elusive, and maybe even somewhat elastic - without ever knowing when the future may become the present – because I’m still looking down the road for something new to come along. Well, if there was ever a time that we could say the future is here, it would be now. We stand at the threshold of the 21st century, and it is exciting…and it is maybe a little bit scary! But make no mistake - it’s here. And I don’t know about you, but at times like this…we sing!" -Richard P. Hoffman

Once again, apologies for audio quality.

Amanda Work was kind enough to send me these tracks from Collage circa Christmas 2002. I thought she mentioned it was one of his last performances, but maybe I’m mistaken. Any rate, great music and some great speeches from the man himself!

After reading so many wonderful tributes, I’m not sure mine will do Hoff justice, but here is my attempt. I met Hoff my freshman year when the Collage keyboard player was in New York for the spring and they needed someone to fill in for the tour and shows that semester. I had the honor of being part of the “Rent” medley and touring in Chicago with people who are, to this day, the most talented musicians I know. I knew it was only for a semester and that the keyboard player would be back the following year, so I tried out for the vocal part of Collage that year. Hoff literally looked heartbroken when he thanked me for filling in the year before but told me he couldn’t accept me as part of the vocal ensemble. I think he felt my sense of loss more than I did!

That second year of college brought many, many trials for me and by the end of the year I was diagnosed with anxiety/OCD and was in cognitive-behavioral therapy for it. To get to that diagnosis, I had gone through extensive testing, stress, various medications, and had therefore not been focusing as I should have been on my classes. Hoff was never once condescending to me and was always available to chat and go the extra mile to keep me on task. While other people were telling me to drop out and take a year off to deal with things, Hoff supported my decision to keep going and rise above the crazy things happening in the rest of my life. He supported me so much, in fact, that he still chose me to be the lead pianist for both Collage and Into the Woods despite being one of only two professors to know about the other issues. He had me over about once a week the entire summer to chat, play piano, teach me how to be a little less classical and a little more Collage-worthy, and just to generally let me know that he knew I could do what he was asking of me.

As most have said, I didn’t always love Hoff. I didn’t always show him the respect that he deserved. I am grateful that he gave me the chance to join in Collage my freshman year, the chance to prove to everyone and myself that I could handle my junior year, and the chance to show him everything HE had taught me as a student teacher my senior year. He was an extraordinary man in so many ways and he taught me – maybe more than anything – how to laugh at myself, then move on and get to work!

Rest in peace, Hoff, and thank you for countless laughs, lessons, and truly incredible shows.

Keri (Hansen) Worden graduated from Coe in 2001 and resides in Marion, IA.

I have to admit it; I am jealous of all of you. Those of you who were priveledged enough to be members of Collage, especially. My husband, Phil Koopman, has such wonderful memories of that time in his life. Pretty much as long as I’ve known Phil, over 8 years now, I’ve heard amazing stories about Coe in general, and Collage specifically. Stories like faking a broken wrist before the 20th anniversary Collage show, only to have Hoff throw a shoe at him. Or wearing his erect Santa hat every year for the Christmas show. Or Joe and Ryan getting totally shot down by some Swedish models of some sort in Hawaii (I believe this situation was affectonately nicknamed the “Crash & Burn”)?!?!
I met Hoff shortly after Phil and I began dating, when Phil played percussion for him at Westminster on Easter Sunday. Though it was Easter, and there were tons of people there waiting to congratulate him after a gorgeous service, he took time to come over and meet me while I was patiently waiting for Phil to load out his stuff. He came up, introduced himself to me and gave me big hug. We talked for a few short minutes. I understood why Phil loved him. In my 3 minute interaction with him, I could feel his amazing spirit. I loved him from day one!

We’ve come a long way since then. When Phil and I got married, Hoff was there to congratulate us and steal a dance, from each of us, I believe… :-) When we baptized our daughter, he was there singing with the choir. He’s always there. Unfortunately, I fell ill nearly 2 years ago now. I was at St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids, then was sent to the University of Iowa. I spent 29 days between the 2 hospitals. I lost my hair, lots of weight, and most of my energy and stength. The first time I ventured back to church was, again, Easter Sunday, when Phil was playing percussion. I sent the kids the nursery and sat alone (with several “ladies of the church”!) while taking in the beautiful service and amazing music. I, in my bright pink headscarf, stuck out like a sore thumb! As soon as the service concluded, I went up front to tell Phil what a great job he’d done and Hoff came up to me and gently hugged me and told me how beautiful I looked. I’m not sure I told Phil that… Anyway, he said he’d been praying for me and our family and was so happy to see me. I just felt good knowing that he was on our team! He was certainly a good one to have in your corner.

Ever since that time, whenever our paths have crossed, he made a point to ask how I was doing, how the recovery was progressing, how the kids were, etc. He always made me feel special and that I was a part of his life and I was important to him.

10 days before we heard this devestating news, Phil had the good fortune to play at church with Hoff one last time. This was the first time since we’d been together that he played but I didn’t attend. I decided not to go that day because we had friends staying at our house that were leaving later that morning. Hoff called though. Right after Phil left for church, Hoff called to make sure Phil had a piece of equipment (that Phil had actually used with Hoff, several times!). Since Phil wasn’t home, Hoff and I had a nice chat. He made sure to ask the usual questions! We talked for a few minutes, I assured him that Phil did have the wind chimes, and we said goodbye. I’m so glad he made that call. The last thing he said to me was, “Make sure to kiss those babies!”

I will forever be envious of those of you who got to know Hoff better than I, and have more experience with him. I did get to know the *wink* you all have been talking about, and am grateful for that! :-)

Katie Koopman lives in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Hard to know where to begin. Hoffman was my adviser as a Music Education major. Every semester, I’d have to wander into his office and ask for his signature. But it was never an irritation. Appointment or not. I remember how he’d pluck the plug out of the back of the phone and put it under the receiver after I’d walk in. It was clear to a young 19 year old boy that he was sending a message of how important that meeting was to him. And it didn’t matter if you were there to cry, or just get a signature.

My first show with him was Side by Side by Sonheim, 1984. Boy, that was a handful for a 19 year old boy. He smoked like a chimmney during rehearsals in Dows. And I remember one moment when he teased me about a hickey I got from a Cornell girl over spring break (with a wink, of course) that I thought nobody else saw. Lots of blushing (and later private laughing) over that.

That was my first experience in performing at Coe, with Hoff, and Micheal and Candace. I was so young then. But we did such a good show! I remember getting a glowing spontaneous letter from the Coe president at the time about after he saw it. At the timeI thought it was S.O.P. for the president to do that, just as a courtesy. I found out later that it wasn’t. I still have it somewhere.

Then other years in the music department. Not just Collage. But the academic work. Elementary conducting. Practicing gestures, ‘left hand independence’, being prepared for rehearsals. “Taking control of your space” which meant that you could move whatever the hell you wanted, if you were in charge of the rehearsal. And if it wasn’t bolted down. And I remember observing hours of Women’s Chorale that semester. I did my final exam with those ladies. We made beautiful music for like 20 minutes.

Then there was Choral Techniques. History of Musical Theater. God-Awful Vocal techniques that was always at 8:00 on Tuesday morning! For FOUR YEARS! I think he had a section of that. And Music Ed Seminar. He came out to observe me when I was student teaching. when I was placed at an Elementary school. A little girl puked all over the floor when I was doing my lesson. He took over a class of 2nd graders while I rushed her to the nurse.

And later, Hoff premiered an A.L.W. arrangement that I wrote with the Women’s Chorale. He had no real reason to do that, except his desire to give his students every opportunity to shine. And I’d graduated by that time. But he still did it.

So many times. So many rehearsals. Such undivided attention. And such gifts that brought me to where I am now. I miss him so much.

Bradley A. Janey attended Coe College from 1984-1988. Hoff was one of his teachers, his advisor, and (of course!) Collage director. Bradley is currently living in Tomsk, Russia, as a Fulbright scholar.

Often in the grieving process there is guilt. Guilt for not connecting soon enough, guilt for not recognizing the pain in someone’s life that lead to their passing. Guilt for not saying to the person that has passed how much they meant to you. In this case I hadn’t really talked to Hoff in the last 3 years. I saw him in periphery during the last Homecoming, but became ill during the concert and missed chatting with him after the show. And today as I read all the tributes and memories that people have of him from my alma mater, I struggle with the guilt that I never really told Hoff how much he meant to me.

My tenure at Coe was filled with theatre and more theatre. I never fully branched out in any other discipline, but I did have Woman’s Chorale all four years. Hoff was director of the group for 7 of those 8 semesters and I missed him terribly when he was gone for one of them. Not being involved in Collage, I sometimes felt on the outside of a particularly exclusive club. With my theatre background, I was often on hand to help out with lighting or other theatrical needs of the group, but never went on tour or joined anything other than a dress rehearsal.

But in Chorale, I always seemed to be at Hoff’s right hand. He would ask me to turn on lights for rehearsals in Sinclair, he would just pull me aside and give me a quick run down of our concert and in what order he would plan the songs with his moments to talk to the audience. I think he decided that since I was a stage manager in the theatre department, I would give him my best work if I had ‘backstage’ knowledge of all our performances.

I’ll never forget my last concert with Chorale and Hoffman. Spring of my senior year and things were moving so fast for me, I had no plans at the end of the year and began to feel sort of a disconnect from Coe and even the people around me. Standing on the risers in Sinclair waiting to sing our last song of the concert, Hoff stopped and turned toward the audience. He thanked them all for coming and then proceeded to talk about the Seniors in the group. Just a quick little blurb about each person, how long they’d been in Chorale and his impression of each woman. I remember blushing thinking, oh dear, we work so hard in a chorus to blend in and here he is pointing individuals out…what will he say about me. And I was stunned that he saved me for last and mentioned that I was his liaison between the theatre and music department (!Candace?!), that I was a disciplined singer, dedicated choir member, and he would miss my smile most of all. Suddenly I was a part of his exclusive club and I didn’t know it until the end.

He told a whole auditorium of his feelings for me and now in front of God and everybody, I’ll try to keep a smile on my face during the grieving process, even through the tears.

Second only to me, I believe, was Hoff’s love for Jonathan! We were just reminded of a story from college today. Jonathan had just got done singing for something and the person asked Hoff, “WHERE did he come from?” Hoff said, “Heaven!” He adored Jonathan, so he was ecstatic when he found out we had moved back to CR. In fact, he was THE only non-family member to attend our open house/welcome back to CR last November. As usual, he had his camera with him and we snapped a few pics with him. I wish I would have had my camera available that day. :( We showed him our tribute to Coe wall in our house and soon it will also have a picture of him on it. Hoff was devastated after losing his friend Mark Elliott in August. He and Jonathan went and had a drink “to Mark” and he let Hoff vent. It was good for him, it was good for both of them.
It was so fun to watch him play for Jonathan and Daniel at Mark’s tribute concert a couple weeks ago. He was as giddy as a school boy…smiling the whole time. Afterwards, I told him so and added some other sarcastic comment to which he promptly slapped me (ever so lightly) across the face. This was to be the last time I would see him.
We hadn’t yet shared the big news with him about having another baby in May. Perhaps if we would have called him last week, Jonathan could have had another drink with him and let him vent. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to have this page.
I pray with all my heart that Hoff is with Mark right now and they are having a grand musical party! Every time I think of him being gone, I shake my head in disbelief. Is this really happening? How is this true? Why?
Hoff, thank you for my experiences in Women’s Chorale, I shall never forget them. Thank you for all the experiences and fond memories you gave Jonathan and letting me share in them too. Thank you for loving Jonathan and being the best mentor to him. Thank you for all the times you encouraged him whether by note or in person. Thank you for being bubbly, happy you. I will truly miss you.
As you always would say;

Meegan Keller Dyrland graduated from Coe College in 2001. She sang with Hoff in Women’s Chorale for 3 years.

Look to This Day

I knew of Rich when I was just starting to volunteer at Theatre Cedar Rapids (TCR) in 1989. Our paths really didn’t cross.

In 1989, I was invited to sit in with the (very small) Coe College Band, as they needed a bass clarinet player. As the band grew under Dr. Carson, I was encouraged to continue sitting in with the band (as I am to this day). I am heartened to read comments here from so many whom I have met because of Coe Band.

I would see Hoff in the halls, at concerts, and especially when he would videotape the conducting students each term. He seemed woven into the fabric of Coe music life.

I can’t remember which year had Homecoming terribly early in the fall, with hardly any preparation time for any one group to give a concert. The Homecoming Multi-Group Concert was the answer. Every group would perform a little, then we would play the Coe Songs together at the end: “Alma Mater-Coe Overture-Coe Loyalty,” “Coe Fight Song,” and “Sling-a-da-Ink.” I can’t say if we played this at the first, but soon, a piece was added to the repertoire called “Look to This Day.” I was told that is was about the only work for college-level performance that had parts for choir, orchestra, and band.

The piece was not universally well liked by the students. It has mixed meters. It opens with choir a capella, so the band version starts with “Rest, rest, rest, BOM, BOM, rest, rest, rest, BUM BUM.” Not very engaging.

As students came and went though the band, joking about the piece, alumni would come back to the college of the west and some would mention after the Homecoming Concert that “Look to This Day” really wasn’t such a bad song after all.

Then came 2008.

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church was celebrating its 150th anniversary. Coe was invited to perform a concert as part of their year-long celebration. That year, I also learned that the composer of “Look to This Day,” Leland Sateren, was Rich Hoffman’s own mentor from Augsburg College and that Sateren had passed away in late 2007.

Hoff alone conducted the ensemble. The setting and acoustics at Immaculate Conception were much better suited for the piece than Sinclair Auditorium was. As a community member, I had played it for about a dozen years already, but this time it was different. The song had found its own. Everything sounded just right. Everything clicked.

And Hoff? I remember thinking during the performance that if Hoff were any more joyful, any more exuberant, any more expressive, then he would just burst into pure sunshine. He was in his element and it seemed like that moment was his reason of being.

Which is how I shall always remember Hoff.

Heidi Ehrenberger Haney worked with Hoff in TCR from 1989-1999 and has been a member of the Coe College music community since 1985. She resides in Cedar Rapids, IA.

The Decision. A Story That Might Help You Understand “Why?”
There is a small story I’ve held back for much of the time since we – you and I – began sharing space on this message board. As I’ve watched this congregation build on this board my friend Joe Lilly set up (thanks again, man), I’ve seen more than a few of the wonderful people here ask, in their own ways, “Why?”
Why did someone we all cared about take his own life?
Why did Hoff do that?
I don’t know that. As Doc Carson said, no one will ever know except him.
What I do know is why Dr. Richard P. Hoffman meant so much to me. And as we’ve shared so much here, I think you deserve to know this little story, about choices and decisions – and about a single moment he changed my life.
Would you believe it had nothing to do with music?
Dr. Rich Hoffman was a man at the core of the lives of many of the people who were some of the most important friends in my life at Coe. Some of these people are still my friends, a blessing I cherish every day.
These folks were and are some of the most talented, wise, wonderful people, and for many of them I still have a level of respect that I sometimes find difficult to discuss. That may also be hard to believe that me – Mr. Loud, Mr. Helped-bring-the-radio-station-back-to-life, Mr. Intense, Mr. Gregarious, may have a hard time sharing some kind of information about life.
But it’s true. ;-)
My time at Coe included some of the best moments of my life. That may not be so difficult for members of this group to believe.
I discovered my craft and my career field – radio – and the use of my voice for good (and for pay, on occasion) during my time at Coe. I found friends who have lasted many, many years. I became more than just a former Navy sailor there. I found myself and my life, I belive. I even met my best friend at Coe.
Here’s something that may seem harder to believe.
Would you believe I left all of this?
There are moments in each of our lives when we look back, and realize all the days from then ’till now turned on the words or the actions of a person or two. Moments – instances – that can be sometimes tagged to specific seconds years later, but aren’t usually broadcast on any television or YouTube channel. These moments, these instances are so key, so seminal to us, that everything after those microscopic moments is a complete universal change from what COULD have happened.
So often, as I’ve worked in the media these last 15 years, I’ve found those moments aren’t usually the ones that are direct, the ones that can be gifted to you by those you love most. They’re moments that can only be given to you by those you didn’t know you had so much love for, those on the peripheral of your daily life, who swing into and out of frame. Like an incredible musician who takes the lead for only a few bars in your favorite song – but the very reason you love that song are those bars. EVERYTHING in that song hangs on those notes, by THAT individual or group – and more often than not, when that song first hits you, years later you can recall the sites, sounds, and even scents and tastes of that moment.
It may be a song that brings you back
But’s a decision that got where you are – and carried you away from there.
In the late winter and early spring of 1996, I had met the love of my life while I was at Coe. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say she became ill with medical problems that were somewhat unique to a person born with the birth defect she has, and were exacerbated by other conditions she was dealing with at the time.
Although she attempted to “tough out” her situation, she came to realize that she would likely have to leave Coe at the end of the school year, and move back with her parents, in order to get her medical conditions – and her life – under control.
One HUGE problem for us. Her folks were moving to South Dakota, when they had been in Illinois. Not exactly close to Cedar Rapids. And we had NO intention of breaking up.
My life at Coe had grown immensely in the less than two years I’d been there. Having been in the Navy, and then moving from private life to college, I began to come to life again when I arrived at Coe. I was involved with theatre (Hello Candace & Michael), and also became a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. I helped reanimate KCOE radio station, and I began to work professionally for a local radio station too, in both the news and sports departments, and as a music DJ. I even found myself in the midst of reporting on a major news incident or two. And as I’d mentioned, I’d met “the girl”. All while going to Coe.
All of this may seem like some simple “after school movie” to some of you, as someone on the outside, looking in.
However, as we each understand, when these decisions affect our own lives, they’re anything BUT simple.
At that time, I spoke with a few important people at Coe about the depth of my issues – very few. Most of my friends didn’t know the full extent of the complex issues then, and many still don’t know everything now.
Suffice it to say, at one point, I had to make a decision – much like Rich did.
I had to make a decision on what I was going to do with MY life. I knew what I wanted to do – but I was dragging my feet, fighting things that were beyond my control. Like the rock music I loved, the songs rolled through my head as choices.
Was I going to “Stick To Your Guns”, stay at Coe and let her go?
Or was I going to follow just “Some Girl” and give up all I’d gained at Coe?
“Don’t Let her Go”? Or was this a moment for “Unanswered Prayers?”
It was as simple as a Clash song, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”
Of course, it wasn’t that simple at all.
In the midst of this confusion, that life-changing moment happened for me.
While some of the details of one of the quintessential moments that changed my life are a bit fuzzy after a few years, some remain quite clear.
While parts of my time-tweaked brain tell me I was in the lobby of the Dows, other say I was outside, between the Dows and Marquis. I guess the place doesn’t matter that much.
I remember looking at the ground, slowly making my way back towards the Library and Murray Hall, when Dr. Hoffman – I guess I can call him Rich now – stopped me.
He knew something was wrong with me. I suppose a blind person could have seen that – except no one else had.
That’s the thing. Others had walked by. No one else stopped me.
But he did.
We talked. Not long. But long enough. I opened up. No tissue box around – but that was OK. I didn’t cry – much – and for being out in the open, it was as though the entire world had stopped and it was just he & I. No one stopped, no one stared. I was just talking with a man I respected, a man most of my friends respected, who was carving a piece of time and space out of the universe to focus on me. For just a moment.
I do remember this clearly. As I explained enough of my situation to him to let him in on what my dilemma was, we got to a point where it became clear to him what was needed.
He stopped me and said something like, “With all you’ve done, and as much as you’ve grown – and as intense as you are, now certainly isn’t the time to… stop short. Do what you have to do. But do it all the way – and don’t have any regrets.”
“You already know what you’re going to do. You simply need to do it, Shawn. Those people who love you will love you no matter what you decide.”
I remember the sunlight – it was afternoon, I know that.
And my feet were cold.
Mostly I remember his comforting hand on my shoulder
And his wink.
And I knew – he was right.
I made my decision then – like he made his decision recently.
My path took me away from Coe and Cedar Rapids back then, although I’ve been back a few times since then.
As of last month, my wife and I – that same woman I was dating back then – have been together for 15 years, through many other trials and tribulations. I’ve worked in the media most of my life since that time. I’ve had some incredible opportunities. Met quite a few famous musicians. Had some tough times too.
But I never have to ask when my life turned down this path I’m on.
I know the moment it did.
Rich Hoffman was there.
I still use my voice to make money (not as much as I’d like), and I’ve been using my knowledge of music to produce, speak, and guide the lives of well, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, now, in my fifteen years of radio and other media.
All of this tracks back to that one moment though, when I made a decision.
And while I felt some shame back then, from folks I thought that I knew were somewhat disappointed in my decision, never once did I feel that Rich Hoffman judged me. He never looked down on me for something that, from the outside, might seem so trivial.
He gave the exact push I needed, when I needed it. And it was for ME – not a push for him, not for anyone else. He was selfless. He was kind. He was generous. For a moment – just a moment, he carved out a place in the universe where I could make the decision I needed to, for me, that would affect everything, for the rest of my life.
I never really thanked him for that, I don’t think.
I’m not sure he would have thought I needed to.
It was just what he did.
There are few people in each of our lives willing to stop the universe for a moment for each of us. Fewer still that have the ability to. Most of those are people too close to us for us to allow them to waste such a precious gift on silly little us.
But it’s not silly, really.
None of us are silly, in that way.
The git the he gave me, is the gift of stopping the universe long enough to allow a friend to make a decision, to help someone else out – and then letting them go, with joy and positive wishes, no matter what that decision was.
Dr. Hoffman – Rich – Hoff – did that for me.
It seems I was far from alone in him extending that kindness.
It was what he did. Who he was – and somewhere, is.
What does one say to someone who fills their life with successive random acts of extreme kindness and generosity like that?
How does one repay an act like that?
You do what he did for all of us.
You live life to the fullest.
And you do for others what he did for you.
And for me.
You just BE THERE.
You help carve moments out where others can make their decisions.
And then you let them fly, no matter what the decision, and you wish them well.
Maybe knowing my “why” may help you.
Maybe not.
None of us will ever know the complete answer to Rich’s “Why?”
We don’t need to.
Ask the Pufalls.
Ask Doc Carson.
Ask so many of the staff and faculty at Coe, and the worship leaders in this group.
All they want is for you to live your lives, to learn, to grow, to be the best … WHATEVER you’re destined to become.
And to be satisfied with the decisions you make – and the ones you can’t control.
What your “why” is, what your decisions are?
Those are up to you.
Dr. Richard P. Hoffman made his decision – and wherever his spirit is, I choose to believe that like others have said, he’s conducting an angelic choir, tossing spiritual sweat onto some poor angelic guitar player, as he drives his choir to heights they’d already thought they’d reached.
He’s got this new piece of music in mind too – and he’s thinking of adding some “Hoffography” to the new singing group he’s just created.
And he’s doing it all with a grin on his face, and a wink in his eye.
Now is the time to wish our friend, our colleague, our mentor, our guide, a safe voyage and a fond farewell to wherever his journey takes him next.
His “why” isn’t important anymore.
We just need to wish him well.
And then Everybody Rejoice – and go out into the world to do for others what he did for each of us.

Shawn “Smith” Peirce is a producer/writer/broadcaster/journalist based in Nebraska. Http://www.silversmithproductions.com

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