Charles Hoff, former school board director, dies at 83

Hoff was a vocal education advocate who helped local students with college scholarships.

Former Federal Way School Board director Charles “Charlie” Hoff died April 27 after a short battle with liver cancer. He was 83.

Hoff was an advocate for quality education in the community, particularly passionate about helping students chart their post-high school career through mentoring and scholarships. He was also a forceful voice on the school board and in the community, unafraid of vigorous debate over how best to serve students.

Hoff was a man of many interests — flight, sailing, history, engineering and skating, to name a few, said his wife of 55 years, Marilyn Hoff. And he was a curious, tinkering soul with high expectations of others.

Take, for instance, his response when their then-16-year-old daughter, Valerie, asked him to send her to driver’s ed.

OK, Hoff told her, but first you have to prove you know how a motor works. So Hoff said she would need to totally disassemble their lawnmower, identify each part and explain to him what its function was.

“He was very adamant about showing people the pathways to learning, and showing them that there are different ways to learn,” Marilyn said.

In more recent years, Hoff hosted monthly college information sessions where students and parents could learn about colleges, scholarships and programs in the arts, sciences and other fields. Hoff had previously worked as a college career counselor at an East Coast private school, granting him insight into what college and university admissions officers want from students.

Hoff thus commanded a deep knowledge of schools and programs, longtime family friend Mark Bofenkamp said, which allowed him to connect students to the programs that were just right for them.

In just the time Bofenkamp saw Hoff work, he saw Hoff secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants for students to various colleges, usually from those colleges to reduce student expenses — perhaps millions of dollars over Hoff’s entire time helping students.

There was, for instance, Kristina Kolibab, the assistant production manager for Zip Car in Boston. Charles Hoff helped her obtain a $250,000 scholarship and get accepted to Clarkson University in New York, Marilyn Hoff said.

“It’s very satisfying work,” Hoff told The Mirror in 2015. “I like to see kids get something out of education because education has done wonders for me and helped me lead an interesting life. I like to see that others have similar opportunities.”

Hoff also played a major role in bringing schools and programs like the Federal Way Public Academy and the Cambridge Program to the school district, recalled Bofenkamp.

“He’s always been so passionate about what was going on in the schools, and I think that’s why he was instrumental in helping to found (FWPA),” Marilyn Hoff said.

Born March 31, 1940, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, Hoff earned a bachelor’s degree in earth science from Penn State University. He taught in Pennsylvania, worked as a flight instructor for Pan American Airlines and Boeing, and worked as the assistant superintendent of schools in Mifflin County.

In October 1967, Charles met his wife, Marilyn, in that superintendent role; she was a teacher at one of the district schools in Mifflin County.

“I wanted to take my third-graders to a bakery,” Marilyn said. “He would not sign the permission slip for us to go until we made bread in class. So he taught me how to bake bread.”

Evidently, there was a spark. The two married in 1968.

“He was kind, and wanted to help people find the best avenues to succeed in life,” Marilyn Hoff said. “He always wanted people to realize their potential. Their full potentials.”

After the birth of their first son Sherman, Charles and Marilyn Hoff moved to Grand Island, New York, where Hoff taught earth science as the business manager at the Nichols School. A skilled skater with a bronze medal from the Ice Dancing Competition in the Middle Atlantics, Hoff also taught his family to skate around that time.

Hoff went west with his family in 1976, taking a job as the business manager of the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, and managing a landscape maintenance company. He became a flight instructor at Boeing in 1979, and developed a love of sailing and hiking with his family. He also found a love for narrowboating, and in 2002, he traveled with friends through the Chunnel to Paris and on to the Canal de Midi.

“I think he was always wanting to see what was on the other side of the horizon,” Marilyn Hoff said.

Hoff dedicated the final two decades of his life to helping students carve out college opportunities through scholarships and endowment funding.

During his time on the Federal Way School Board — 2000 through 2007 — Hoff’s perspective on education earned him supporters as well as plenty of critics. Hoff fought for school choice and critiqued the school district for the quality of education students got and how new school buildings were proposed.

In 2012, Hoff wrote in strong opposition to the proposed $60 million tax levy to replace the dilapidated Federal Way High School, arguing in an opposition statement in the King County voter’s guide that the school’s graduates were underperforming and that the district had refused to show how it would change to improve this situation.

While the building itself was obviously beyond repair, he wrote to The Mirror, the district had an opportunity to develop a new learning facility that would better lead students to higher education and well-paying vocational jobs.

Voters said no to the levy that February, but ultimately passed it in November with 60% of the vote.

Not all would agree with Hoff’s perspective, but he was “no armchair quarterback” when it came to education, Bofenkamp said.

“Yes, people who knew him knew he was outspoken,” Bofenkamp recalled in an email. “He’d definitely say what was on his mind.”

Hoff is survived by his wife, Marilyn, son Sherman (daughter-in-law Lana), and daughter, Valerie Eattimo, and four grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held in June. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center or Federal Way Public Academy.