Asked a few years ago to create a personal mission statement, Cedaredge, Colo. resident Phyllis Hoffman knew just how to begin. “I have known ever since I was a child,” she wrote, “that God gave me a special purpose.”
Inspired by a spiritual commitment to serve others, Phyllis can trace her desire to be a caregiver back to early childhood experiences. At the tender age of four, she alarmed her mother who found Phyllis in the family garage trying to revive an injured mouse. Then, at seven, she survived an appendectomy only to have the family dog damage the incision site by greeting her with an enthusiastic pawing when she arrived home. Sent back to the hospital with an eviscerated incision, she adored the attention of the nurses even though the ministering angels had to combat infection by giving her painful penicillin shots around the clock.
Eventually, when her divorced mother had to work to support the family, Phyllis stepped up to be the caregiver for her two younger brothers. Later Phyllis joined a blended family when her mother remarried and she gained a familiar step-father—the same doctor who had removed her appendix.
As she adjusted to new family dynamics, she never wavered in her desire to become a nurse. Even at high school graduation when her artistic talents—nurtured by her maternal grandmother—led to a scholarship to attend the Chicago Institute of Art, she decided that art would remain a hobby while she concentrated on nursing.
In 1958, she entered the St Josephs Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1961. The nursing course was rigorous with only twenty percent of the freshman class making it to graduation. After graduation, Phyllis married her high school sweetheart. While she was in nursing school, Bill Hoffman had joined the U.S. Navy and the married couple spent the next seven years moving thirteen times for the good of the service.
Wherever Bill was stationed, Phyllis worked as a nurse while the couple raised four children. Their travels took them to the Colorado mountains, up to Alaska and Seattle, and back to Western Colorado. And during this time her continually evolving caregiver role changed from hospital nurse, to ski patrol nurse, to a vital player in the Alaskan Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system. She also worked as an operating room nurse, a day surgery manager, and home health coordinator.
Her nursing memories include her first job at a little hospital in Idaho, just a few miles from the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. One morning she discovered a newborn baby girl on the hospital’s front porch. The abandoned child lay in a basket wrapped in a blanket. In the 1970’s the family moved to Frisco, Colorado, where the Copper Mountain Ski area was just being developed. There she got a job as a ski patrol nurse which included the perks of a mountain condo and season passes for her children.
Moving to Alaska in the 1980’s, Phyllis learned that emergency response time—which might be measured in minutes in more populous areas—became hours and even days in the isolated Alaskan wilderness.
“A native community health aid with a snow machine or dog sled would bring the victim to a river’s edge where a coast guard boat or helicopter can take them on to the nearest town,” she recalled.
In one challenging incident, Phyllis was told that a very sick little boy would need to air-lifted from her day surgery in Valdez to an Anchorage hospital. “It’ll be dark by the time we arrive,” they told her, “so be sure to get the runway lights turned on.”
Phyllis said okay only to discover that Valdez was a ‘sight-in’ runway with no field lights. So she telephoned the local police who quickly assembled a dozen snowmobiles to head to the airport and use their headlamps to light up the runway.
As her nursing career came to a close, Phyllis joined Bill in a financial services career and the couple helped clients with investments, insurance, retirement planning, and long term care planning. She and Bill earned a number of industry awards including an incentive trip to Paris.
Eventually, Phyllis fell in love with long term care planning and, working with a Cedaredge partner, she began her own local business which eventually joined a national insurance brokerage—a move that brought the dedicated caregiver full circle.
“In the end,” she said, “I was designated as a ‘nurse advocate’ by the American Nurses Association. In this role I took care of my fellow nurses who always seemed to be at the end of the line—taking care of everyone else in the world but themselves. What an honor and privilege to have worked with and for my peers.”
Now retired, Phyllis has continued to be involved in the life of her community. She is active in the Cedaredge Rotary Club and will serve as the service organization’s incoming president.
Since retirement, Bill and Phyllis Hoffman spend time with artistic projects and taking care of their chickens which reside on their property in what Phyllis describes as, “the prettiest little henhouse in Cedaredge.”