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Autobiography of Henry O. Little, Sr.


Theodore Hoffmann was the national chairman for the Steuban Society, the largest German-American organization in the country. He was a remarkable person. At a dinner that I attended of the Society in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the main dining room was quite crowded. As chairman of the meeting the main address by Mr. Hoffmann, besides the short talks, was quite eloquent and could not have been given by anyone except a highly educated man. To the best of my knowledge, however, he had never attended a college. Evidently quite strong as a boy, he had learned to swim by being thrown into the East River of New York. As he grew up, he became a lifesaver and won the Congressional Metal for lifesaving.

In about 1941 I was on the surgical staff of the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital on 210 E. 64th Street in New York. Dr. David H. Webster was the chief surgeon director in the hospital. I, at that time, was working as an assistant to him in his office on 54th Street. About that year Theodore Hoffmann (my future father in law) had Dr. Webster remove a cataract from one of his eyes. Some months later Mr. Hoffmann had me do a cataract operation on his other eye. It unfortunately developed a detached retina which we operated on more or less successfully. One day at noon his daughter Jane, upon leaving the office was heading up Lexington Avenue and I offered to give her a lift. It proved to be a prophetic event because not too long later we were married.

In the spring of 1946, before we had moved to Claverack, Jane and I, with her father and little Jimmy, took a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit Jane's brother Ludwig, who was the chief engineer for the Maritime Commission. Parkways and thruways, at that time, were nothing but a gleam in government's eye. A trip to Washington was a long day's journey. Going through Philadelphia was endless red lights and the same was Baltimore and Washington. Finally we arrived at McClean Virginia in the evening, which is across the Potomac River from Washington. In fact, looking to the south and west, there was nothing but open prairie. Its now all built up. Their house was just a hundred yards from the home that was later owned by Senator Bob Kennedy (there was always the sound of the happy voices of his ten children, now they are all grown up and gone). Ludwig, and his wife Helen, had two sons, Ted and Lud Jr. With a new home and built in garage, they had perhaps two acres of land where they did a lot of gardening. Helen, now a widow, lives there alone with the surrounding area completely built up with fine homes.

When the two Hoffamann boys finished high school, they both attended the University of Virginia. Ted later attended law school at the University of Alabama. He took up a law practice in Montgomery Alabama with an office next to Governor Wallace. He was quite successful and became a judge at about the age of forty in the small city of Union Springs. In the south, it seems, the people have retained the silly idea that some people are better than others. They call it class distinction, considered generally in the north to be very anti-American. The people down there voted Ted Hoffmann to be one of the six most gentlemanly lawyers in the state. He married Martha whose family had been the original homesteaders at a place called Fitzpatrick, 35 miles southeast of Montgomery where she had inherited 6,000 acres in the area called the "black belt" so called because of its very rich black soil. There son John, born in 1960, attended school in Union Springs, the county seat. The neighbors in that area had gotten together and built an ultra- modern, all white school where young John was a star player on the school's football team. When he graduated, he took up theology and became a Baptist minister. He also became the champion weight lifter for the State of Alabama. On July 24, 1964, his little sister Paige joined the clan. On May 23, 1970, three more little sisters arrived; Suzanne, Martha, and Norma. Martha and Norma were like identical blond twins, while Suzanne had darker hair and was half as big again as her two sisters. In 1986, their Cadillac was struck by a drunken driver killing little Norma at the age of 16.

In January or 1975, their father Theodore began having weaknesses in certain muscles. It became progressive and the diagnosis was made of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). By the fall of 1976 he was pretty helpless. In October he wasn't expected to live much longer so I traveled down to Fitzpatrick to see them. He was just able to walk around and his speech was unintelligible, except to Martha.

Very frequently, Martha put on an English fox hunt. That's what I landed in that October of 1976. You would think that there were a lot of millionaires in Alabama when you saw all of the beautiful horses that arrived for that hunt (about 25 or so). It was a beautiful day so naturally the foxes "out foxed" them and they were not able to find one.

Paige, at that time, was just twelve. She was riding one of her own beautiful Thoroughbred horses. You could see that she and the hose were like one unit. Paige was a lovely looking young lady. Not having done any riding for forty years, I choose not to join with the hunters although they offered to supply me with a beautiful thoroughbred. I went along in a pickup truck driven by a retired executive from the Parke-Davis Company who was a native of the south. We traveled at a distance off where we could see them. When I asked my driver friend how many cattle Martha had, he, in amazement said that he had never thought about how many cattle there were. I am unable to remember his name but a fellow from Georgia brought a little trailer where he could carry fifteen or twenty foxhounds, all of the very best breeds. I asked the man in the pickup truck what the guy with the foxhounds did for a living, he said "what did he do for a living? Nobody ever asked a question like that, nobody over there ever does anything 'for a living'". When we all returned to the Hoffmann's modern brick home, I found a man and wife busy preparing a lunch for us. I took them to be some hired help that Martha had acquired, later finding out that they were multimillionaires from Birmingham. Later that Sunday morning, Martha took Paige and the triplets along to Sunday School. I declined but now I wish that I had gone. Martha at the time was teaching school in Montgomery and drove me the thirty-five miles to the airport where I took a plane for Atlanta and from there in a Tri-Star 1011 plane with Rolls-Royce engines could take off in about half the length of the runway with very little noise. From the Philadelphia airport, I took a plane to New York.

Ted Hoffmann lived for about another year. His father Ludwig Hoffmann died of the same disease on April 16, 1985. Ludwig Jr. ("little Lud") lives in Montgomery, Alabama. He and his wife have one little boy who was born with a mental defect. Paige with her thoroughbred horse together are as a single unit. In 1986 she won the Miss Rodeo USA beauty pageant. In Alabama, the governor declared a Paige Hoffmann holiday. The governor presented her with a new Jeep and a gift of $5,000. Her mother, Martha, is now married to a veterinary doctor who goes in for race horses. Martha has given up the cattle business and has taken up race horses.

Jane's brother Ludwig was the chief engineer of construction for the U.S. Maritime Commission. In 1950 and 1951 he was in charge of the construction of the steamship United States in Newport News, Virginia. At that time his father Theodore, national chairman of the Stueban Society, was staying with them. We arranged with a private ambulance plane operator to bring her father up to Hudson in 1952 while our daughter Mary was just a baby and our eldest son Jimmy was just seven. In this little plane, there was just the one seat for the pilot, Jane, little Jimmy and the Baby, and right next to where Jimmy sat there was a door with just a hook on it and nothing else. The arrived safely, however, in Catskill, across the river from Hudson. Mr. Hoffmann was in the terminal stage of cancer of the pancreas. He stayed in Hudson until we lost him. There was a big funeral put on by the society in New York. We went down in our car to be there. By this time we has acquired a Ford from my sister. We needed the extra car now that five kids had joined the troop. While in New York the old Mercury developed crankshaft trouble. It was impossible to have it fixed so we gave it to the garage man for $10.00 and we had to get back to Hudson with the whole tribe in the Ford.