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January 2003

Katie Johnson-Hoffman -
Unbelievably Energetic and Active

by Joseph H. RADDER

Do you know someone in her fifties who sails, loves photography and antiques, plays the string bass, rides a motorcycle, has an antique auto collection and works full-time? Unless you know Katie Johnson-Hoffman, probably not. Indeed she is one of the most active and energetic people we’ve ever met.

Her tremendous energy undoubtedly comes from her roots. When you hear the story of Katie Johnson-Hoffman’s heritage you know she comes from quality hard-working stock.

Her childhood was, in her words, “Fantastic!” Katie grew up in Bradford Pa., the daughter of Greek immigrant parents. “We were 100% Greek and 100% American” she said. While in grammar school, Katie spent a year in Greece which nourished her feeling for her heritage.

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Sparkling eyes and a smile at 6 months.

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A three year old with her brother Mark.

Katie ready to tap dance just before
leaving for a year in Greece.

“My parents gave me unconditional love,” she said. “They taught us respect for God, for ourselves and each other, and we learned the importance of education. My father, a restaurateur in Bradford, was a ‘coffee cup politician’ He loved people, his Packard car and nickel cigars” she remembered with a loving smile.

Katie’s father came from Greece as a teenager with a group of four others from the town of Siatista. Heeding advice to “follow the railroads” and knowing there were some other Siatistians in Salamanca, they decided to settle there. It wasn’t long before they founded an association which now numbers over 800 sons of Siatista and their families who live in many parts of the United States.

On August 10, 1922, five of the founders of the Siatistian Association drove to Bradford, Pennsylvania, where they met with Katie’s dad, James Johnson, and her uncles, Peter and John. After a long discussion, the eight men from Siatistia decided to hold a banquet in the Johnson Building in Bradford on September 11, 1922. Seventeen people accepted the invitation and the Siatistian Businessmen’s Association was born.

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The Johnson brothers: James (Kate’s dad), older brother John and younger brother Arthur. Circa 1925.

Ever since then, the organization has held annual conventions, which Katie Johnson-Hoffman has been attending since she was a child. Locales have included Bemis Park, N.Y., St. Mary’s Pennsylvania, Celeron, N.Y., Olean and Dunkirk.

When Katie told us about the food at these conventions our mouth was watering. “There were twelve chefs in the kitchen,” she said, “and all of them owned restaurants. Needless to say, each meal was a feast. “They would charge $5 for the meals, and all that money would go back to Siatistia to support schools, churches, libraries and other needs of the townspeople.”

“The three tenets of the organization,” according to Katie, “are 1) To be patriotic American citizens, 2) To take care of your family, both in America and in Greece, and 3) To never forget where you come from.”

In 1985, Katie’s Dad was named man of the year by the Siatistian Association, and in 2002, Katie followed in his footsteps as person of the year.

Katie Johnson-Hoffman’s altruistic bent, inherited from her parents, carries over into her work as an active and enthusiastic member of Buffalo’s Hellenic Orthodox Church. Right after the blizzard of ‘77 she was on the committee that put on the church’s first Hellenic Festival. Twenty-five years later she is still part of the entertainment and handles the public relations for the event which has become famous throughout western New York. Over 15,000 people attended the last festival a year and a half years ago.

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Katie’s mother Anneta and father James shortly after their marriage in 1931.

Unfortunately, the Hellenic Festival could not be held this past year because of a tragic fire which did severe damage to the church almost two years ago. Johnson-Hoffman is co-chair of the church’s fire renovation committee and is busy co-chairing an event to be held on completion of the work. “It will celebrate the jewel the church has become again and will honor the firemen, policemen, craftsmen and parish workers who were so instrumental, first in controlling the fire and later in the fantastic job of restoration. The celebration will be a testament to the wonderful Greek community and their dedication to the preservation of our church and it’s place in Buffalo. We will also be celebrating our first Divine Liturgy in our refurbished church with our Archbishop of North and South America and our Bishop. And to make it a very special moment in our Hellenic Community, our church is being declared a National Historic Landmark and will be on the National Registry.”

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Family photo shortly after Katie arrived in Buffalo. Father James, brother Mark, Katie and her mother Anneta.

Parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, 1981.
Sister-in-law Sarajane, Mark, Annetta, James, Katie and her niece Carre.

Johnson-Hoffman graduated from Penn State where she majored in pre-med and science and minored in art. After college she took a year off before going to grad school to study immunogenetics, a science related to the study of blood types.. She then worked as a stylist for photographer Sherwin Greenberg.

About thirty years ago, Katie was recruited by Mel Hoffman of Hoffman Printing. “I worked for him for 27 years and then married him” she said happily. “We called our marriage a no-cut contract with the printing firm. Her love for him is evident in all the pictures of Mel Hoffman in her office and in what she wrote about him when he died just ten years ago: “He was everything one could have in another human being - Mel was my mentor, teacher, partner, best friend, my husband and my greatest love.”

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Katie dancing with “her greatest love” Mel her husband six weeks before his death.

At Hoffman she established and ran the college publication division. Eventually they landed catalog printing contracts with Harvard, Yale, West Point, Annapolis, Penn State, Cornell and numerous other prestigious schools.

Her love of Buffalo came through early in our conversation. “I can sail right outside my front door at Rivermist. And in the wintertime I can be on a ski slope in 25 minutes.” In addition, she is very active in the Roswell Park Alliance, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Leadership Buffalo, The Joey Oddo Foundation, S.A.V.E. and, as mentioned above, the Hellenic Orthodox Church.

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Katie in her Greek costume as Master of Ceremonies at the Annual Hellenic Festival.

Katie with her mother and father after he was named “Man of the Year”.

She recently changed careers after completing three years as Executive Director of one of Buffalo’s non-profit agencies, Computers for Children, Inc. Katie mentioned the agency’s accomplishments of donating almost 5,000 refurbished computers to Western New York schools as well as recycling tons of non-biodegradable material. She speaks with pride of dozens of inner city children who have learned to refurbish computers, a skill that will equip them for a decent job in the future.

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Katie on her sloop, aptly named “Unforgettable”.

Katie signed on to work with the Republican Party and Bob Davis in the recently completed elections and found the experience fascinating and exciting.

The awards and honors that cover her office walls are too numerous to mention. Her most recent honor was a great one. “I was privileged to carry the Olympic Torch up Delaware Avenue just before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2001. Seeing people waving American flags and hearing them chant ‘U.S.A.’ was euphoric. I felt I was honoring my parents and family and that they were with me. It was a feeling I’ll never forget.”

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Katie during a fund-raiser for Presidential Candidate and fellow Greek, Michael Dukakis.

A chance to meet General Norman Schwarzkopf during the All Star Night Gala for Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Does she have advice for those of us who envy her happy active lifestyle? “Live every moment God gives you, respect yourself and others, give more than you receive and offer unconditional love.”

Johnson-Hoffman is bullish about Buffalo and believes future political and economic health will come with regionalism. “All those little fiefdoms put us in a hole and we won’t climb out of it until we get rid of them.”

Even a short visit makes one thing perfectly clear. Buffalo is a better place thanks to Katie Johnson-Hoffman.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.


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