Sylvan Allan Hoffman, 82, pharmacist who taught reading in retirement

May 14, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sylvan Allan Hoffman, who worked nearly 60 years as a pharmacist and then in his retirement found a second career at age 79 teaching reading to pupils at a Baltimore County elementary school, died Monday of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 82 and lived in Owings Mills.

The moment the first- and second-graders at Deer Park Elementary School in Owings Mills saw Mr. Hoffman's Ford Taurus pulling up to the school parking lot, they would become restless with anticipation.

The avuncular gentleman with a ready smile and kind heart was ushered into the classroom against a backdrop of gleeful giggles and laughter. For the next two hours, he would hold pupils spellbound as he helped them learn to read and, in doing so, passed on to them his deep appreciation for the written word.

"When the volunteer coordinator told me she had the perfect match for me three years ago, it proved to be a match made in heaven," second-grade teacher Karen L. Dolan said yesterday.

"When he arrived, the students always shouted, `Good morning, Mr. Hoffman!' and they nearly knocked him over when he left as he tried to give them group hugs," she said.

"They loved him. He was such a gentle man and had a soft, expressive voice. When I told them that he was dying, I asked for their thoughts, and they told me, `Mr. Hoffman taught me to read with expression. He loved us. He was kind. He helped me to read better,' " she said.

To have a little more quiet, Mr. Hoffman sat at a desk in the hall outside Mrs. Dolan's room where he listened to the pupils read.

At Christmastime, he would arrive at the school with bunches of candy canes that he tied together with ribbons and presented to each of his young charges.

His wife of 58 years, the former Deborah London, has offered to take her husband's place tutoring the pupils next year, Mrs. Dolan said.

Born and raised in Forest Park, the son of Lithuanian immigrant parents who owned a Broadway grocery store, Mr. Hoffman was 16 when he graduated from Forest Park High School in 1933. He earned his pharmacy degree in 1937 from the University of Maryland Pharmacy School.

For more than 30 years until selling the business in 1971, he owned and operated Hoffman's Pharmacy in a rowhouse at 27th Street and Huntingdon Avenue in Remington.

From behind the store's old-fashioned soda fountain, Mr. Hoffman dispensed fountain-made Coca-Colas, phosphates, 5 snowballs topped with marshmallow or nuts, ice cream sodas and milkshakes prepared with Hendler's ice cream.

"The secret of his ice cream sodas was that he slowly back-fizzed the soda water, and he taught me the trick," said his daughter Lois Hoffman, of Miami, who worked in the store as a teen-ager.

Other pharmacy specialties included fried hamburgers, chicken salad and tuna salad sandwiches. "The secret of his tuna salad was chopped gherkins that he added," said Ms. Hoffman.

After selling his drugstore, he worked as a pharmacist at Odenton Pharmacy, Springfield State Hospital and Taylor Manor in Ellicott City before retiring in 1996.

An avid big band and Broadway musical fan, Mr. Hoffman especially enjoyed listening to and collecting Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald recordings.

He also enjoyed sculpting in sandstone, planting chrysanthemums and puttering in his basement workshop.

He was a member of the Wedgewood Club, Senior Retired Pharmacists of Maryland and the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy Alumni Association.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, David Hoffman of Mount Horeb, Wis.; a brother, Emanuel Hoffman of Baltimore; and many nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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