If the Denison community remembers its history from the latter part of the 20th century, much of the credit for that legacy belongs to Florence W. Hoffman. Hoffman, who retired in 1998 as university archivist, had served in the archives for 18 years. She died on July 15, 2017, at the age of 88.
Hoffman was the driving force behind the creation of the highly professional institutional archives that Denison boasts today. “She was tapped originally to help Denison get ready for a big historic event—I think it was the 1981 sesquicentennial,” said Mary Prophet, retired deputy director of Denison libraries, and Hoffman’s longtime colleague and friend. “The archives were already established, but it was her involvement from that time forward that turned a neglected department into a systematic collection of usable and well--classified materials.” Hoffman had not had professional training in archival development or document conservation. But she was a quick learner and highly motivated by what she saw as an institutional need. “She quickly figured out what should be done, and she made it happen,” said Prophet.
Recognizing the accessibility problem that unindexed documents presents, Hoffman took an early card file system in the archives—cards citing names, organizations, events, etc.—and developed it into a cross--referencing system that ultimately became the basis for the archives database, according to Prophet. Hoffman herself initiated the transition to a digital system—a sea change, of course, in data collection. She also acted on a suggestion from colleague Marilyn Hirshler to develop an index for The Denisonian, and later for other publications and collections, including the complete body of minutes of the Denison board of trustees.
A number of other improvements were part of Hoffman’s vision for the archives, including the move that long after her retirement would bring the archives from its previously hidden quarters to the more publicly accessible lower-level floor of the library. And Hoffman enjoyed sharing the secrets of Denison’s collections with Denison alumni, parents, and friends via her regular Denison Magazine column, “Continuum.”
After retiring from Denison, Hoffman continued her commitment to historical work by serving as volunteer archivist and board member for the Granville Historical Society. There she once again employed her talent of bringing order out of chaos, according to her fellow volunteer Theresa Overholser, who succeeded Hoffman as archivist at the historical society. An even more visible impact on the Granville community, however, was the multiyear project she led to restore and conserve the Village’s historic cemetery, the Old Colony Burying Ground. Due to her efforts, the graveyard today, still under restoration, is one of Granville’s premier historic sites.
Colleagues of Hoffman uniformly comment on her commitment to historic preservation and to the sense of fulfillment that she brought to her work. “She always wanted what was best for the archives and for the preservation of Denison’s history,” said Prophet. “She was generous with her time, forward-looking, and dedicated. She was wonderful.”
Flo Hoffman was preceded in death by her husband, Professor of Chemistry Bill Hoffman, who died in 2011. She is survived by her five children, John, Janet, Katherine, Karl, and Mark; their families, including granddaughter Laura Hoffman ’13; her sister and brother--in-law, Margaret-Ann and Milton Ellis; and her niece and husband, Ann E. Ellis ’83 and Clayton Francis ’82.