By Rachel Dragos
Thomas Hoffman ’62 has lived an enviable life in some of the world’s most cultured cities ﾗ making a career as an expert in international trademark law in Paris, Chicago and Seattle. But when it came time to give back, he chose to donate his money and time not to the Orchestre de Paris or the Lyric Opera of Chicago, but to the humble crane.
“There are 15 species of cranes in the world, of which 12 are endangered,” Hoffman said. One species of the bird, the Sandhill Crane, exists in Ohio.
“The second species of crane in the United States,” he continued, “is the Whooping Crane. It stands five to six feet tall, and has black tips on its wings and is very endangered; there are only about 500 in the world.”
A chemistry major and swimmer at Kenyon, Hoffman became involved in the International Crane Foundation after he met the retired president and founder, George Archibald, through a friend. Archibald insisted Hoffman visit “Crane City” in Wisconsin, the only place in the world to have breeding pairs of every different species of crane. “[Archibald] charmed you,” Hoffman said. “And then the birds charmed you.”
Hoffman’s involvement began with fundraising for the Foundation, eventually becoming a board member. Later, he had the opportunity to work on some of the Foundation’s trips.
Hoffman’s first international project took him to Siberia with a group of board members, teachers and educators to help with a new, privately-funded nature preserve. “We were not only educating Americans about cranes in Siberia, but also ﾅ [helping] educate Russian officials in the area about conservation, and using cranes as the vehicle for doing that,” he said.
About 15 years ago, Hoffman started a five-year project that involved yearly visits to Cuba. “We would go down for a week ﾅ and go to schools, doing education about the conservation of cranes and why it was important, the idea being that they would take that information home to the dinner table,” he said.
Additionally, every Sunday Hoffman and his co-workers would host “crane festivals,” featuring art, music, theater and, of course, rum and cigars.
Though Hoffman seeks to halt the destruction of cranes, his main concern is the conservation of wetlands.
“We see so many of them destroyed, and they are such an important part of our environment,” Hoffman said. “I think my real focus is trying to slow that process down and [making] sure that the wetlands are not destroyed, and using the Sandhill crane as a charismatic symbol for that.”
After travelling all over the world for both cranes and his personal work, Hoffman decided to settle down with his wife in Gambier.
“Ten or 15 years ago, the Kenyon community looked at forming a retirement community right here in Gambier,” he said. “Even though we were a long way from retirement, we thought this would be a great place to retire. ﾅ Well, that fell through ﾅ [so] we approached Graham [Gund] about [designing our] house.” Gund built Hoffman’s home as a place where, according to Hoffman, he and his wife “hope to finish our days.”
Overall, Hoffman and his wife have been pleased with their choice to return to Gambier. “[Gambier] is just a wonderful place to retire,” he said. “There are a lot of activities. I’m still involved with the swim team. The music programs are just wonderful, and the lectures. It’s just a vibrant community to be a part of, being around young people.”
For Hoffman, a Kenyon education allowed him to pursue a variety of experiences, from his legal work to his philanthropy.
“You never know when the next exciting opportunity is going to come through,” Hoffman said. “Kenyon prepared me to be able to pursue those opportunities. And they’ve been wonderful.”