Retirees rejuvenate life as missionaries in Utah

Cave Spring residents Donna and Wilson Hoffman have completed their transition from retirees in Roanoke to full-time missionaries in Utah.

Although the Hoffmans are in their 70s, they are working 40 hours per week in the Library of the renowned Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. This Mormon Church sees thousands of missionaries every year, and the Hoffmans applied to become two more of them.

The couple has friends in North Carolina who visited the Church’s library for a Church and Family History Mission and loved it. They told the Hoffmans about the work, and asked them to join them in Utah.

Cave Spring residents Donna and Wilson Hoffman are currently in Utah on an 18 month assignment at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. Here they stand in front of the Salt Lake City Temple.
Cave Spring residents Donna and Wilson Hoffman are currently in Utah on an 18 month assignment at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. Here they stand in front of the Salt Lake City Temple.

Wilson Hoffman was busy researching his genealogy at the Family History Library at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salem when he received the invitation. He enjoyed helping others who came to search for their own family lines. He also had practice in mission work from volunteering at Roanoke Area Ministries, where he is fondly remembered as “The Soup Man.”

“So he thought this mission was one that he could do even though he is over 75 years old,” Donna Hoffman said.

Donna Hoffman herself had always liked history, and decided she would also be interested in the mission.

On February fifth of 2009, the Hoffmans arrived in Utah. Once they arrived, they were trained and then assigned to the Church History Library. In June, the Library was moved to a new facility which is over 230,000 square feet, and contains millions of books and artifacts about the history of the Church.

“The building was created, not only to house all the artifacts, microfilm, manuscripts, and books, but to protect the items and preserve them for future generations,” Wilson Hoffman said.

Materials are usually kept in temperature and humidity controlled rooms, and are only brought out when someone requests them.

The main library where the couple works is available for professional researchers, as well as anyone interested in the history of the church. Over 5,000 patrons visit the library every month.

The department in which the Hoffmans work, the Church History Library, operates the tours, reference desk, and the reading room where patrons can use the materials they requested from archives.

“For example, someone may see and handle original manuscripts that are 180 years old,” Wilson Hoffman said.

Although they enjoy the work, it is difficult. The two work eight hour days, five days a week, plus one Saturday each month. They have one afternoon off per week, and one full day off per month.

“So we went from retirement with some volunteer work weekly, to working fulltime,” Wilson Hoffman said.

Wilson Hoffman does research for staff members, and orders materials for patrons from the archives. Donna Hoffman does the scheduling.

“Since there are 25 full time missionaries and many more service missionaries who volunteer…scheduling is a huge task,” Wilson Hoffman said. “There are about ten assignments in the zone that must be filled for each of the three time slots every day.”

She creates the preliminary scheduling for the month, then passes the schedules on for someone else to finalize. Donna Hoffman also helps the library’s patrons and people who call the library for requests.

The Hoffmans will not be back in Roanoke until August or September of 2010, and there are plenty of things they miss about this area, including their family and friends.

“We miss the easy pace of daily life in Roanoke and sitting on our screened-in deck… surrounded by beautiful green trees, birds, and other wildlife,” Wilson Hoffman said.

Utah is physically very different from Roanoke. While there are still mountains, many of them are treeless, because the mountains are too high for trees to live. In Utah, it is very cold in the winter and very hot and dry in the summer. The biggest difference between their lives in Roanoke and Utah, however, is that they are living in the city. Their condominium in downtown Salt Lake City is less than one block from Temple Square, meaning they can walk to work, to church, and to concerts. Their condominium is on the thirteenth floor and they can look out over the Salt Lake Valley and see fourteen miles in any direction.

The Hoffmans’ mission will end on July 30th, 2010. They will not return to Roanoke immediately, however. They will drive north through California, Oregon, and Washington State before heading back to Roanoke.

“We will be making stops to sight see on the way and expect our trip home to take four to five weeks,” Wilson Hoffman said.

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