One thing that makes Des Moines a great city, in my humble opinion, is our splendid and varied array of neighborhoods. And what makes a neighborhood great? Well, great neighbors.
There’s a difference between a good neighbor and a bad neighbor. Believe me, I’ve had the pluperfect example of both ends of the spectrum, one on either side of my house, at the same time! I don’t want to dwell on the bad neighbor, besides she’s no longer with us. Unfortunately, neither is my good neighbor, Joe.
Joe Hoffert was weeks away from 92 when he passed December 20. Joe and wife Lois had moved to Minnesota a few years ago to be closer to their kids and grandkids, but I still refer to their house as their house. I’m not even sure who lives their currently, I think it’s the third owner since the Hoffert’s sold.
Joe was a retired math professor at Drake, but it wasn’t until Lois sent me the funeral program that I learned many of the highlights of Joe’s life. High school grad at 16. One-room schoolhouse teacher at 17. Officer’s Candidate School at Notre Dame. A few more stops, including a destroyer detachment in WWII, various primary schools and finally in 1958, a math professor position at Drake. (1958 was the year I was born.)
Little did I know our birthdays were six calendar days apart. A couple Aquarians, no wonder we got along. I introduced myself to Joe and Lois shortly after moving into my home in 1993, but I already knew them. As a four-foot-something tyke, I’d used the hoop on their garage to shoot baskets. I ended up buying a house literally steps from the house in which I grew up. I said I liked the neighborhood!
What I did know of Joe during our time as neighbors, he was even more fastidious about his lawn and garden than me. He didn’t need a power lawn de-thatcher, merely a rake and about a week’s worth of sunny afternoons. He tinkered on old cars. Tinkered is really an insult, he restored several vintage cars. Not quickly, this was an activity that saw him through his retirement years until him and Lois moved to Minnesota.
We both had a fondness for The Drake Relays. In fact, Joe’s son Gordon ran on a winning men’s relay team for Drake in the 1970’s, the last time a Drake men’s relay won at the Relays to my knowledge.
Joe died a week before I moved back to Des Moines. That made it 12 friends, relative and/or associates who died during my 12 months in Indiana. No one likes funerals but there comes a time in your life when you should recognize the duty to attend them.
Sorry I missed the opportunity to say a proper good-bye, Joe. But I’m sure we’ll “commune” the first nice day this spring when I start raking the thatch out of my grass.