Roger Hoffmann has spent his life working to improve communications. As an adult, the Sheboygan native worked in Sheboygan area schools as a speech therapist, helping children overcome communication gaps. As a retiree, he wrote his first book, “Talk to Me,” which, through personal stories and anecdotes, offers help to people who are having a difficult time bridging the gap between the hearing and silent worlds.
But Hoffmann credits his experiences as a child for forming his interest in and ability to bridge those gaps.
“As a youngster, I was teased. My grandparents were deaf. Grandma took me to school the very first day and she obviously signed something to me and some boys saw it. And after she left, they started teasing me,” recalled Hoffmann, who had learned how to sign at a very early age. “I realized later that they weren’t teasing me, they were teasing my grandmother.”
Hoffmann was profoundly affected by the teasing.
“I loved my grandparents and I just couldn’t take it,” he said.
Eventually the teasing stopped, but Hoffmann never forgot the hurt it imparted on him and his beloved grandparents. It even affected his choice of girlfriends.
“I was dating a girl and I invited her to my house to meet my grandparents. She said something bad about my grandparents and I told her that I never wanted to see her again,” he said.
A little later, he met another young lady with whom, he said, he truly fell in love.
People of Faith
Name: Roger E. Hoffmann
Parish: SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish, Sheboygan
Occupation: Retired speech therapist
Book recently read: “Talk to Me,” by Roger E. Hoffmann
Favorite movie: “Boys’ Town”
Favorite quotation:“It was meant to be.”
“She came to the house and said nothing but nice things about my grandparents. And, they liked her, too,” he said.
Hoffmann’s grandparents obviously had good taste, because that woman eventually became Hoffmann’s wife, to whom he’s been happily married for more than 55 years.
But it was those early teasing experiences that helped form Hoffmann’s decision to become a speech therapist. At one point, he was the only speech therapist for all of Sheboygan County. Eventually, he worked in the Sheboygan Falls School District. But wherever he worked, his policy remained the same: If anyone had a problem, his door was open.
One day, two young, hearing-impaired boys came through that open door crying because they were being teased by other kids for signing on the playground. Their experiences rang all too true for Hoffmann, and he decided he needed to find a way to help those boys.
“I finally came up with an idea. I had a 30-minute program which I took into each individual classroom,” he said.
The program included a handout with the manual alphabet depicted. Hoffmann then took the time to educate the students in everything from manually spelling their names to shortcut signs for things like the telephone, dogs and cats.
“The kids went nuts, and all I heard was, ‘Hey, man, that was cool.’ And guess what? The teasing stopped, and I swore I’d never stop. I will continue this education until the day I die,” Hoffmann said, noting that his goal is to take his message to every classroom in the area.
And that’s how Hoffmann’s vocation turned into a mission: to educate young and old alike on how all people – hearing and non-hearing alike – are more the same, than different, no matter how they communicate.
Hoffmann continues to take those same manual alphabet handouts to nursing homes and schools, showing how sign language works. It was the accumulation of these experiences that Hoffmann wanted to share with his grandchildren and which were the impetus for his book.
In April 2010, Hoffmann put some of his thoughts and techniques on paper.
“I was writing this information for my grandsons. I wanted them to know how I was raised,” Hoffmann said.
While on vacation in Las Vegas, he continued with his writing project and a complete stranger took a look at what he’d composed and suggested that he get it published.
“I said, ‘Yeah, right,’” Hoffmann recalled.
But the idea of publishing his work took hold, and some three months later, after doing some research, Hoffmann sent his book to Tate Publishing, a Christian-based publisher in Oklahoma. He approached the company concerning their interest in his book, and while they welcomed his submission, it came with a warning.
“A very nice lady told me, ‘We get approximately 160,000 submissions per year and we accept 3 percent,’” Hoffmann said.
A month later, Hoffmann received a contract in the mail accepting his book for publication. He was elated, but also curious as to why his book was accepted out of so many submissions. He called the company and asked a gentleman, who turned out to be the executive editor, why they accepted his book.
The gentleman replied, “I picked it out because I think you have a fantastic topic. It will have a wide, wide audience.”
Since its publication, Hoffmann has appeared at bookstores, libraries, coffee houses, restaurants and other facilities in the area. He takes his message of education to anyone interested in learning.
Hoffmann, who was brought up Lutheran, converted to Catholicism when he married his wife. He said his religious beliefs transcend a specific denomination.
“I don’t care if you’re Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish, whatever. If, in fact, you are deaf, you have a problem. Talk to me,” he said.