Friday, January 30, 2015


In several of the past blogs on Island life, I have mentioned HENRY DELBERT HOFFMAN, who was a much revered man, know for his humor, simple life and generosity.

He was born on September 28, 1929 in Seattle, Washington, the only child of Delbert and Helen (Coleman) Hoffman of Shaw Island.

At the age of two, the family returned to their home on Hix Bay where Henry spent most of his life until 2010, except for time he served in the U.S. Army and his college years at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, where he graduated in 1962 with a B.S. Degree in Business Administration.

Though Henry was born just before the Depression, he says his family was never hungry. They raised plenty to eat, with livestock such as steer, milk cows, chickens, ducks and turkeys as well as vegetable crops. Fishing and trading with the native Indians supplemented the food shelves.

Henry was a fifth-generation Shaw Island resident, who worked as a farmer, gillnetter and carpenter. As we said in a previous blog, he ran a sawmill and rented heavy equipment for his cousin’s earth-moving business and squirreled away scrap metal “I’m a scrap metal pack rat.” He built four homes on Hix Bay, named after his great-great-grandfather. The cove “next door” is named after Hoffman’s grandfather, who came to the San Juans from Ohio when he changed his occupation from accountant to boat-builder in order to save his eyesight.

Henry remembers being lonely as a teenager on Shaw. “Instead of dating I would hunt rats in a neighbor’s hen-house, but it’s not as satisfying as going out with a girl,” he once said with his typical tongue-in-cheek humor. In college he met Marlyn, his wife of 51 years.

Family history was important to Henry and his interest in writing began with creative writing courses taught by Janet Thomas. Henry took her memoir-writing class and “Henry’s Stories” was really intended for the family so the kids wouldn’t lose the stories. At local meetings we loved to hear Henry tell old tales- he was our local Garrison Keillor. His book about growing up and living on Shaw Island is heartwarming and humorous,  written with the wit and wisdom only an early pioneer family member can have. It's an island treasure.

His stories are replete with do-it-yourself instructions describing how to build a trailer from a Model A car, retool a car horn motor to fit a wood lathe, fish from spar buoys, and build small explosives, as well as retrofit a hand gun. “Recycling is nothing new, and it came in handy during the war years,” he once said.

In his book, Henry described “the Olden Days” on Shaw of subsistence farming, including hunting and butchering, raising lifestock and going to dances at the Grange where the women talked about kids and babies and men talked about raising chickens. While a different era now Henry said: it’s still the same community spirit and caring... it’s a little friendlier now and work is better than it used to be

Henry's favorite pastime was getting out in the boat and beach-combing – a love he inherited from his father and uncle. The materials he used in building his houses were from things he found nearby: fir framework from the old ferry landing dolphins, cedar for paneling and spruce logs for ceiling timbers. “You could get good logs in those days.”

Henry and Marlyn raised three children on Shaw and all of their grandchildren were born here. About seven years ago we lost the whole family, as the farm that has been in the family for over 120 years was sold.   Over the years, he served on the Shaw Island Community Organization  and as a Fire Commissioner.. With Marlyn he also sang bass in Mother Kateri’s wonderful group in the 90’s.

Henry died in Anacortes in 2011 of pancreatic cancer but he left this island with a legacy of one who possessed wonderful smiles, the love of story-telling, a generous heart, and a humble faith in God. He was laid to rest on his beloved Shaw Island.

Henry's book can be found at the Shaw Store.

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