Casting a Legacy
August 3, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf
Allan Hoffman (A49) started freshwater fishing a few years before he graduated from St. John’s College, eventually turning the pastime into an annual family trip with his son and son-in-law. Now, 70 years later, a next-generation Johnnie has joined the expedition: Allan’s grandson Brian Hoffman (SF19).
In June, Allan, his two sons, and Brian rented a cottage and a boat for a week in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River, fishing both in Canada and New York. The spot had been carefully chosen decades ago by Allan and his brother, deemed “most comforting, both in terms of the environment and the ability to catch fish.”
“You don’t want to be completely frustrated travelling this far and not catching anything,” he adds.
Though Brian grew up on Long Island only 20 minutes from his grandfather, he’s looked forward to those fishing trips since he was in his early teens. Fishing, he says, reminds him how to be quiet and patient, helping him to “detach from the noise of daily life and to recognize the value of being able to take a day or a week to remove yourself from the commotion of whatever people are outraged about that week and clear out the mind and let the mind wander.”
On a recent conference call, the two described passing islands and spotting otters, eagles, loons, and an occasional moose or bear. The fish they catch are mostly northern pike, walleye pike, and small mouth bass. They release all, except for a few that they save to eat.
“There’s something very soul-satisfying about going to a remote area and seeing no influences of man’s intervention and seeing nature,” Allan says. “It’s good for the soul.”
When they do break the silence to talk, it’s only occasionally about St. John’s or the books, though that seems to run in the background.
Of Allan’s two children and four grandchildren, Brian is the only one who became a Johnnie.
“I grew up reading a lot of books,” Brian says, “so going to a school with the best great books program just made sense.”
Of course, he’d heard tales of the college from his grandfather, but the two insist that the decision was Brian’s alone.
“He knew about St. John’s by osmosis. I was not an overt advocate,” Allan adds.
Allan graduated just about a decade after Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan’s institution of the New Program. He spent time around each man and passes what he remembers to Brian.
“He’ll tell me about what Barr and Buchanan thought about a liberal education, how a discussion should be run, and how we should approach the books,” Brian says. “So, the idea that what you’re reading is written for you. Or, what is this saying for me specifically? How does this speak to me personally?”
The younger Hoffman does not think his grandfather’s long tenure as an alumnus has given him any sort of advantage over other students—though Allan mentions that his ability to share his library with his grandson certainly saved Brian from buying as many books as his classmates.
Last year, Brian decided that after graduating from St. John’s, he’d like to go to law school. He’s not sure where he’ll apply, but says he realized looking at the LSAT that his education thus far had prepared him well for logical reasoning and the interrogation of ideas.
Between the end of this coming school year and the beginning of law school, however, one thing is certain: Brian, his father, his uncle, and Allan will head north for another week of fishing together.