With Remembrance Day approaching, the memory of our three Second World War veterans – George Hoffman, Steve Makarenko and Paul Koop – have been on my heart.
All three gentlemen passed on in the early months of 2020. We were very fortunate to hear their accounts of the battles that helped preserve our freedom at the greatest cost.
I began thinking about who I would write about this year, and what came to my mind was the wife of a veteran.
Esther Hoffman was married to George just short of 74 years before he passed on.
The wife of a veteran holds a very special role.
“George didn’t talk too much about his time at war,” Esther said,
But perhaps it is those unspoken words that linger long after a battle’s end.
When I was spending time with the Hoffmans last year gathering information to write a story, I noted that George enjoyed chatting and was comfortable doing so, but Esther was quiet and did a lot of listening.
I really want to give a voice to Esther’s life and thus, here it goes:
Esther was born in Manitoba on Jan. 12, 1923, in what she describes the ‘boondocks.’
Her parents, Amelia and Conrad Schwab, brought 13 children into the world.
Her early years consisted of farming cows, pigs and chickens and attending school in Mowbrey, Man.
Esther never missed one day of school in all the years she attended.
Immediately after her school years, Esther began working on the farm and big garden at home on a more full-time basis.
She did this for a few years before venturing out to other farms in the local area earning $30 a month.
When Esther turned 16, she went to work for a man who had lost his wife and was trying to raise three grown children. They lived in a small community called Ridgeville where she enjoyed helping out and making a difference in their lives.
Following this endeavour, Esther went on to Winnipeg where she cleaned homes, worked as a short-order cook and then went to work for Swift Packing House. This was around 1942 as the war raged on.
“We were responsible for packing up meat and other goods and sending it overseas to the soldiers who were at battle.”
She worked there for the duration of the war. One day in 1946, not long after George’s return from the war, he was nudged by Esther’s brother-in-law to go introduce himself to Esther who was living in a rooming house on the third floor.
After several beers, Hoffman found himself heading up the stairs to the rooming house where Esther was living.
When she answered the door, there was George standing there with a bleeding nose.
She’s not sure how that happened!
Esther invited him in and cleaned him up. The next day, George appeared on her doorstep once again and apologized for his behaviour the day before; that was the beginning of their courtship.
“I remember the day clear as a bell,” Esther said with a smile on her face. “We went to movies and some dances and on June 1, 1946, he asked me to marry him!
“We were married on Oct. 5, 1946, and went on to have five children: Lyle, Douglas, Eileen, Barry, and Debbie.”
Coincidently, Eileen was born on the very site that Esther lives today at Heaton Place Retirement Residence in Armstrong and was brought into this world by Dr. Haugen.
The Hoffmans moved from Manitoba to British Columbia and for a time lived and worked on O’Keefe Ranch.
The home they lived in is still there and currently has a miniature train set in a room upstairs.
Tierny O’Keefe actually helped Esther out by vacuuming her floors when she had hurt her back one day.
The family lived in Armstrong on the corner of Rosedale and Pleasant Valley roads as well as on Eagle Rock/Hoffman roads.
Esther used to cook on a sawdust burner for a stove where she would can, bake bread and cook all other meals. Eileen recalls running outside in the middle of summer when it was 90 degrees and it actually felt cool.
Eventually, George and Esther would move into Heaton Place where they enjoyed two years together. George passed away peacefully on April 9, 2020, after a long life.
Esther now spends time doing crosswords, playing on her iPad, and watching TV.
When asked how she is doing, her reply is always: “I am fine, I am at home here!”
We are lucky to have her here with us at Heaton Place.
This article was contributed to the Morning Star by Heaton Place Retirement Community resident relations coordinator Carrie O’Neill.