Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Bob Hoffman I Knew -- Bob Hise II


Courtesy of Bob Wildes, and Joe Roark's IronHistory website

There's an intro that I did not put up here, I believe written by Robert Kennedy. 
I found it on the sickening side. Backhanded compliments, here we go . . . 

The first time I met Bob Hoffman was at the National Championships in Woonsocket, RI in 1937. Among the other notables of the Iron Game I met there were: Frank Bates, Romeo Bergeron, Dietrich Wortmann, Joe Mills, Jack Ayers, Joe Raymond, Jack Lipsky and Karo Whitfield.

The things that I remember best about Hoffman were his love for weightlifting, and nonstop talking. Many years later when I was in Manilla for the '74 World Championships, an American serviceman approached me and asked, "Isn't that Bob Hoffman? You think I can talk to him?" My reply -- "I don't know about talking to Bob but you sure can get talked to." After about 30 minutes with Bob he came back and said, "I know what you mean -- the only words I got in were, 'My name is Joe Scott.'"

On this same trip to the '74 Worlds Bob lost his baggage on the flight over and his coat which was decorated with hundreds of pins and buttons. I made several journeys to the Philippine Airline office but Bob's luggage never showed up. I thought Bob was going to crack up.

Another of Bob's trademarks was a roll of twenty dollar bills that he carried and was always generous with when a lifter was in need. Yes, there is no denying Mr. Hoffman loved lifting, lifters and Bob Hoffman. He could at the drop of a hat or lack of dropping a hat tell you about being the greatest lover, having the greatest chest expansion, the strongest toes employed in canoe tipping and being the U.S. weightlifting coach -- a title he carried to many Olympic and World Championships. 

A benefactor of our sport who gave generously he certainly was, but a coach he was not. I've never met a man connected with our sport who knew so little about the fundamentals of lifting.

I've gotten ahead of myself. The Hoffman family had moved from Pennsylvania to Georgia and shortly thereafter in December 1898 Bob Hoffman was born. The family lived in Georgia only for a short time and then returned to Pennsylvania. 

With Hoffman's gift of bag he became a good salesman. In the early '30s he teamed with a genius of a man -- Ed Kraber, who built oil burning furnaces. One would be built and Bob would peddle it! 

Nearby in Maryland was a nest of great lifters: Bob Knodle, Bob Snyder and Dick Bachtell were the best of the group. Hoffman had visions of expanding into other business ventures of which one was the manufacture of barbells! Nothing would promote this more than a championship team and of course having the best built man in America.

Since it was in the midst of the great depression Mark Berry was having sever financial difficulties with his Milo Barbell Company and Strength magazine. Hoffman bought Berry's Philadelphia based business for a pittance and a promissory note and was off and running in the barbell and publishing business.

Along with the Maryland lifters mentioned earlier he added one of America's greatest lifters, Tony Terlazzo, as well as John Terry, John Terpak, the Good brothers and the man who built York, John Grimek. Later York added Steve Stanko, John Davis and others to the team.

In 1944 Hoffman told me that at least 90% of all mail received was related to Grimek. How did he train? What did he eat? Give us more pictures of Grimek! Hoffman said, "For his contribution I'm leaving him well fixed in my will." 

Probably the greatest source of financial success came through a lesser-known lifter, Pennsylvania Dutchman Mike Dietz, who was a self-made financial wizard. Mike guided the York organization to a near-billion dollar business. It was through Dietz's uncanny wisdom that a foundation was set up. I don't want to take anything away from Bob's generosity, but the tax diversion foundation financed the lifters and Bob's travels. If this foresight of Mike had not been planned, the foundation money would have gone into taxes, leaving much less money for lifting!    

Mr. Dietz also had visions in other fields of investment, real estate, stocks, bonds and manufacturing.

Mike Dietz was a formidable force behind the scenes and of course he took care of Mike Dietz along the way. It was pretty common that Mike took only one vacation in his entire lifetime and took York's financial records with him! 

So again, I reiterate: John Grimek gave the York Co. a drawing card (publicity) and Mike Dietz gave it the financial expertise. I wonder if York would have had the success without these two men.

Now, to get back to Hoffman. He was the world's best known weight lifting personality for 50 years. He truly loved weight lifting and promoted the game and York's Strength & Health magazine wherever he went. 

Many were the times he would take as many as 50-60 to dinner. On numerous occasions I would be one of these guests. I remember once in New Orleans he took a group to Antoine's (they boast that you could eat there every day in the year and have a different dish each day). The check came to $1,500.00 -- plus tip! 

Again, at a Pan American championship in Mexico he gave Pete Miller a roll of bills to fund a sumptuous Mexican meal that was set up for the entire delegation.! 

Bob's lovelife had its ups and downs. It included Rosetta. Gracie Bard, Dorcas Lehmen and his true one, Alda Ketterman. However, he never fathered any children. 

Not only did he contribute readily to weight lifting but he helped to organize and build strength lifting which later changed its name to powerlifting. 

In Bob's later years he gave much of his time and funds to York's ladies' softball team.

He also founded the Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Your author's name graces the walls of the York Hall of Fame. Hoffman was also a longtime booster of the AAU which was formerly the umbrella organization for most of our Olympic sports. 

Hoffman resided for many years at George Street in York before moving to Brookside. 

I once visited his George Street home and was amazed to see U.S. currency bills stacked tightly from floor to ceiling in most of the rooms' corners

Speaking of Bob's nonstop talking, I once witnessed an event that left him speechless. After the catastrophe at Munich the security was very tight at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Bob failed to have credentials to the weight lifting training center and was stopped by young army guard. Bob told him that he was Bob Hoffman, the father of Weight Lifting and proceeded on. With a stern gesture and a cocked rifle the soldier replied, "I don't care who you are. You'll not enter without credentials. Do you want a bullet or a bayonet in the gut?" He then raised his cocked gun.

Bob's mouth dropped and he retreated. Later he told me, "I really think that young buck would have shot me." 

IWF Secretary Oscar State provided Hoffman with credentials and he cautiously attended the training session the next day.

Though Bob was generous in both his time, support and money to weight lifting, he had a fetish which bordered on ruthlessness about winning the National Championship Team Title each year He defied all eligibility rules to enlist lifters. The standard compensation was a can of protein and a subscription to Strength & Health; in special cases $100.00 per month. 

In 1952 when York's National team champion Stanczyk bombed, this allowed Dr. You's Hawaiian team to upset the York Barbell Club dynasty! Hoffman was furious and wouldn't speak to Stan for a long time. 

In later years the York team lost its grip and has been beaten many times. 

It was sad to see Mr. Hoffman deteriorate in his later years. I was checking out Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and saw Bob and John Terpak leaving. Bob said to Johnny, "I've to to bid Bob Hise goodbye," which he did. 

That was the last coherent conversation I had with the Father of Weight Lifting. 
Bob passed away at the age of 86 in 1985. 

Reprinted in MuscleMag International by kind permission of International Olympic Lifter. 

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