Seventh in a series honoring the Courier’s 2019 8 Over 80 winners.
CEDAR FALLS — In her long teaching career and as a 4-H leader, Donna Hoffman taught many things to many students.
But her most important lesson?
“Help others,” she said.
The 88-year-old imparted that wisdom in the classroom, on her farm, and by example.
Hoffman, now retired, lives in rural Cedar Falls where she’s lived since 1950.
She attended Iowa State Teachers College, now the University of Northern Iowa. She spent her first year teaching in Waterloo, then moved on to teach in Cedar Falls, where she spent the remainder of her 36-year teaching career.
Hoffman taught a variety of subjects, including math and woodworking. She’s somewhat of a pioneer in that regard.
In college, she was the first woman in the industrial arts program. Later on, with jigsaws and other equipment in her classroom, she taught math using woodworking principles.
“I taught my math with that, measuring the boards and adding it up,” Hoffman said.
Those and many other skills came in handy as a 4-H leader. She and her husband, Donald, moved to their rural Cedar Falls farm in 1976 to facilitate their 4-H curriculum. They even eventually put in a swimming pool for their 4-H kids. The duo had a passion for the organization, Hoffman said.
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Sometimes a student would be a bit reluctant to take part on the farm, Hoffman said.
“It took a while to get their attitude to change,” but once they saw other kids jumping in, they all jumped in. Seeing that change was evidence she was making a difference, Hoffman said.
Many of her 4-H students won various contests and awards.
“Many of the kids got blue ribbons at (National) Cattle Congress,” she said.
Hoffman taught gardening and other activities in 4-H. Teaching crafts required some creativity and resourcefulness.
Drivers passing by their Ford Road farm would sometimes throw cans and bottles out the car window. Hoffman had her 4-H classes collect the discarded items and turn them into something new.
“I had a ceramic shop and we’d heat them and make critters out the cans. We’d take beer bottles and heat them and make vases out of them,” Hoffman said.
She’s made a point to be involved in her community and her church. As a teacher, she racked up a number of recognitions, including a Gold Star Teacher Award.
She learned a lot about helping people while growing up in Barnes City, a small town in southern Iowa where “everybody helped each other,” Hoffman said.
“If somebody’s farming equipment broke down then the neighbors would all pitch in and help,” she noted.
It has become a lifelong theme for the former teacher who has given so much to young people and her community.
“I seem to find myself in those spots. It was wherever they happened to need me.”