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Published: Wednesday, 7/15/2009

Wholesale produce seller was WWII vet

Jerry A. Hoffer, 90, who put in hard work and long hours to build his wholesale produce, food distribution, and warehousing businesses, died Sunday in Serenity Gardens of Sylvania.

The cause was not known. He had spinal stenosis and had developed an infection, his son Jeremiah said.

Mr. Hoffer, formerly of Ottawa Hills and Sylvania, hadn't formally retired from the family business of owning and managing warehouses. The business now is operated by sons Jeremiah, Drew, and Armand.

"He tried to keep an active hand in the business until about a year and a half ago," Jeremiah Hoffer said.

Mr. Hoffer's first venture was in a business he knew: fruit and produce. Before World War II, he drove a truck for George Mercurio's Toledo Fruit Co. During the war, Mr. Hoffer was a first lieutenant in the Army and was stationed in England.

When he returned, he knew he wanted to be his own boss.

"He wanted a good life, and he was willing to work 12 to 14 hours a day to get it," Jeremiah said.

His friends in the produce business already had customers in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Sandusky was open because no one wanted to pay tolls on the bridge over the bay, he said.

"He was willing to take a risk," Jeremiah said. He didn't know if he could sell a thing in Sandusky, but filled a truck with fruit and produce and drove there. He sold the entire load at the first market he visited.

From then on, he bought his produce daily at the farmer's market in Toledo and from the wholesalers in the warehouse district for the Sandusky clientele he amassed.

At heart, he was a salesman, and he had charisma, Jeremiah said.

"You met him, and you liked him," Jeremiah said. "Once [you] got to know him, [you] liked him even more. He had that touch. He wasn't afraid to work, and that impressed people."

He was recalled to active Army service during the Korean War. He was stationed at the Rossford Ordnance Depot and in Washington, and his wife, Jessica, drove the truck daily while he was away.

In the late 1950s, he was the principal in what became J.A. Hoffer Institutional Food Service, which sold frozen food and canned goods to Toledo area restaurants, hospitals, and schools.

He sold the business in 1987.

In the 1970s, he owned Tol-Pac, which packaged goods to be put aboard overseas-bound freighters at the Port of Toledo.

He liked the warehousing business especially. He began in 1960 when he bought a former brewery in Sandusky. The space he didn't use to store produce, he leased out. Buildings of his in Toledo that he made into warehouses included the former Huebner Brewery and the former Citizens Ice Plant.

He attended the former St. John's High School in North Toledo and, when it closed, Central Catholic High School, from which he graduated in 1937.

He donated money in the 1950s to the campaign to build St. Francis de Sales High School. The next decade, he helped support the new St. John's Jesuit High School.

He and his wife, Jessica, married Aug. 21, 1943. She died April 18, 2002.

Surviving are his sons, Jeremiah, Drew, and Armand; six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

The body will be in the Foth-Dorfmeyer Mortuary from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saturday. Services will be at Gesu Church at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The family suggests tributes to Gesu Church, where he was a member; St. Francis de Sales High School; St. John Jesuit High School, or Central Catholic High School.



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