Irwin B. ‘Hefty’ Hoffman, 94; chaired JFed Campaign

Irwin B. Hoffman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Irwin B. “Hefty” Hoffman, retired former president and co-owner of the Gale-Sobel clothing manufacturing firm and former chairman of the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign in the 1970s, died Thursday, June 7, 2012.  He was 94 and had been a resident of The Gatesworth at 1 McKnight Place.

A native of St. Louis, Mr. Hoffman was born Feb. 22, 1918, the son of Alex and Rose Hoffman.  He was a graduate of Webster Groves High School.  When he was 11 years old and rather heavy for his age and height, he and his late brother Michael Hoffman, who was left-handed, earned their lifetime nicknames when they were greeted on the baseball diamond at the DeMun School in Clayton by friend Joe Steinbach:  “Well here they are:  Hefty and Lefty.”  Mr. Hoffman, who later shed his excess weight and remained in excellent physical condition throughout much of his life, embraced the nickname to the extent that he used it in his telephone book listing. Many of his friends were not aware of his given name.

Mr. Hoffman served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II in the European Theatre of Operations, which was under the overall command of General Dwight David Eisenhower.  Mr. Hoffman supported Gen. George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army across Europe, including Great Britain, France and Germany.  He entered the service as a first lieutenant and finished his duties in 1946 with the rank of captain. 

 In a 1975 interview with the St. Louis Jewish Light, when he was named Federation Campaign chairman, Mr. Hoffman recalled seeing the horrors of the Nazi death camps at Dachau and Buchenwald and attending the first open service at the Rothschild synagogue after the liberation of Paris, where Jewish American G.I.’s took part in an emotional religious service.  “Those experiences deepened my awareness of what we must do to assure that Jews not only survive, but thrive,” Mr. Hoffman told the Jewish Light.

Mr. Hoffman met and married the former Suzanne Sobel in 1943.  They were married for 67 years.  Mrs. Hoffman, who had been a travel agent and a patron of the arts in St. Louis, died in 2009.  They had three children.

After the war, Mr. Hoffman joined the Gale-Sobel Company, a St. Louis clothing manufacturer.  After 46 years of service, he retired from the company as president and co-owner.  During his tenure, Mr. Hoffman and his associates at Gale-Sobel hosted kosher luncheons during Passover for the Jewish business and professional people who worked downtown. With other business leaders in the famed St. Louis garment district, Mr. Hoffman helped begin the Merchandise Mart Synagogue, which held daily minyan and other services for downtown Jewish business people.

Mr. Hoffman was active as a volunteer and leader of numerous organizations in the Jewish and general community. He was president of the Community Housing Association for the Elderly and the St. Louis Civic Ballet.  He served on the U.S. Draft Board and the boards of the Jewish Center for Aged (now the Cedars of Town & Country), the Macabean Men’s Club and Congregation Temple Israel.  He was also a member of the Jewish War Veterans and of B’nai B’rith, and received the National B’nai B’rith Foundation Guardian of the Menorah Award, along with numerous other awards for his service to the community.

Family members stressed that Mr. Hoffman was “most proud” of his tenure as a board member of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis for 45 years, including two years as General Chairman of the Federation Annual Campaign in 1975 and 1976.  During his tenure, the Federation hosted a musical celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial and the American Jewish experience, which featured such luminaries as Theodore Bikel, Herschel Bernardi and Elliot Gould in a production called “Proclaim Liberty.”

Mike Litwack, a past president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis who worked with Mr. Hoffman in the campaigns he chaired, recalled, “Hefty Hoffman really had fun leading the campaign and it was tremendous fun for the volunteers.  He called his team of campaign volunteers and chairs, ‘Hefty’s Army’ or ‘Hefty’s Honchos.’”

Under Mr. Hoffman’s leadership the 1976 Jewish Federation Campaign raised a then record total of $5.6 million.  Mr. Hoffman remained engaged with and active in Jewish Federation and other activities throughout his life.

Survivors include a son, Lawrence Michael Hoffman, and two daughters, Lise Marie Reardon (Robert) of East Lyme, Conn. and Nancy Jane Stolberg (William) of St. Louis; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services, attended by family and hundreds of friends and associates, were held Sunday at Temple Israel.  Rabbi Amy Feder officiated.  Marshall Friedman, Commander of the Jewish War Veterans Post 236, presented a folded American flag to Mr. Hoffman’s son, Lawrence in appreciation for his military service.  Burial was at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery on Ladue Road.

Contributions may be made to The Honor the Fight, Inc., 300 East Auburn Avenue, Springfield, Ohio 45505; the Jewish Federation of  St. Louis, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 66146 or the charity of the donor’s choice.