Haven E. Hoffman, 99, provided food, toys to needy

known as `Mrs. Santa'

November 23, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For Haven E. Hoffman, who lived in the small Washington County community of Chewsville, Christmas was a year-round event.

For more than 50 years, Mrs. Hoffman, who was known locally as "Mrs. Santa Claus," repaired and painted toys to make sure that needy children had gifts on Christmas morning and their parents had a holiday dinner to serve.

Mrs. Hoffman, a deeply religious woman who had hoped to be a missionary and succeeded in becoming one dispensing seasonal joy, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at Washington County Health Systems in Hagerstown. She was 99.

An energetic woman with thick white hair and glasses, she filled her shed, basement and rooms with toys that she carefully repaired. While contributors donated bicycles and other toys, it wasn't uncommon for Mrs. Hoffman to painstakingly collect, dress and deliver up to 500 dolls.

"Nothing broken goes out of here," she told The Sun several years ago. "Every truck that needs painting gets painted; nothing goes out of here rusty or broken. I enjoy every minute of it. It is not work any more to me. It's a labor of love."

Mrs. Hoffman's efforts to bring joy to others began in 1942 when she was touched by the plight of eight little girls and their poverty-stricken parents who told her they were too poor to celebrate Christmas.

"That broke my heart," Mrs. Hoffman told The Sunday Sun Magazine in a 1979 interview.

She and her husband spearheaded a drive to help the family that turned into a big success.

"I told myself, `We did good last year; maybe we can do better next year.' " Her list had eight needy families the first year and 63 families the second.

The Hoffmans repaired the used toys and gave away baskets of food they had grown in their garden and canned. The chickens came from their barnyard.

As the project grew, names of needy families poured into the Hoffmans from clergymen, friends, social agencies and the local government. In later years, volunteers helped pack and deliver toys and food baskets.

"She was simply a very nice lady who was concerned about other people," a niece, Doris K. Rabbitt of Takoma Park, said yesterday.

In 1972, Ronald L. Bowers, a former Washington County commissioner who had known the Hoffmans for years and knew that they had driven the back roads of Washington County in their station wagon handing out toys and food baskets, arranged for the Army Reserve to help.

"No task was ever too big for her," Mr. Bowers said yesterday. "She was a warm and compassionate person who had very little but gave to people who had nothing. She had known poverty and in helping people was a very rich woman. She may not have had money but she was really a millionaire."

Mrs. Hoffman, who helped more than 500 families annually, retired from her work in 1994.

Born Haven E. Rice, she was raised in Barnesville, Montgomery County, and attended local schools.

She was married for many years to William Hoffman, a factory worker with the Security Cement Co., who died in 1964.

The Hoffmans had been founders and helped build Black Rock Bible Church in Washington County.

Services for Mrs. Hoffman will be held at 11 a.m. today at Andrew C. Coffman Funeral Home, 40 E. Antietam St., Hagerstown.

She is survived by several nieces and nephews.

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