Alice Hoffman McIlrath
(Oct. 8, 1929 - Dec. 11, 2017)
Alice Hoffman McIlrath, after a long and happy life, died peacefully on Monday in Rochester, her home of six decades, surrounded by family. She was 88.
A "Celebration of Life" will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, 3100 Country Club Road SW, in Rochester.
Alice was born Oct. 8, 1929, in Elmira, N.Y., the daughter of Thomas and Alberta Craig. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a B.A. in 1951, and embarked on the life of a young professional in New York City, working for Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. But her love of a fellow Elmiran, Harry Natt Hoffman II, whom she married in 1954, soon steered her away from the big city to Rochester as Harry began an internal medicine residency at Mayo Clinic following 18 months of active duty in Korea.
Alice's life in Rochester can be seen in two nearly equal parts. The first spanned the 32 years she shared with Harry, raising their children, Harry III and Martha. Alice and Harry initially joined many other young Mayo families in the newly built Homestead addition in SE Rochester, a cluster of clapboard houses whose iconic front yards famously faced to the back, allowing children and parents alike to forge lifelong friendships. In the early 1960s, Alice and Harry, bought a pretty, wooded lot in the newly plotted Merrihills neighborhood of SW Rochester and built their dream home of brick and glass. The house reflected their love of the outdoors and gave them front row seats to the four seasons. In summer, they planted beautiful flower and vegetable gardens; in fall, they tended their beloved woods and, with friends, prepped the neighborhood XC ski trails; winter beckoned the Hoffman family outside for skating on Mayowood Lake and cross country skiing; and, each spring, Alice and Harry hosted a large Easter egg hunt and later hosted friends to view the stunning blanket of bluebells that carpeted their woods each May.
Alice and Harry shared their love of the outdoors with their children through family vacations. Canoe trips in the Boundary Waters, skiing in Colorado, and hiking in Switzerland were family favorites. Alice and Harry had plans to travel the world as a couple after their children finished school and gained independence, but tragedy shattered this dream in 1986 when Harry died suddenly of an asthmatic reaction at age 61. In one of the several family genealogy books she put together, Alice recalled how difficult it was to adjust "from such a happy, contented life to life alone."
Alice's life took a surprising and welcome turn for the better in the spring of 1988 when friends re-introduced her to Donald McIlrath, a Mayo surgeon whose wife had died shortly after Harry. After a short but intense courtship, Alice and "Mac" married in August 1988, and shortly thereafter took a memorable trip around the world that included stops in Hong Kong, India, Nepal and Rome. Alice once marveled at how their marriage had "turned our holidays into events of sizable proportions," noting that they had each gained two children in their union. The combined family eventually grew to include seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After retiring from Mayo, Mac joined the board of the Minnesota Historical Society and the two of them grew to love traveling to historic sites around the state. Mac often called Alice his "soul mate" and they spent 29 happy years together.
Alice was best known in the community for her volunteer service. Beginning in 1983, she became a tutor in the newly formed Adult Literacy/English as a Second Language Program at the Hawthorne Education Center. She worked with hundreds of immigrant newcomers, mostly refugees, who needed to learn to speak and read English and develop new life skills to navigate the complexities of their new American home. Over 30 years of service, Alice was a fixture at Hawthorne, working two mornings a week tutoring in English and math and lending a sympathetic ear and helping hand on numerous personal issues, especially for women. According to Kim Fanning, coordinator of the Hawthorne Center, Alice always went the extra mile for her students -- teaching them how to shop, helping them find community resources, even hosting some families at her home for the annual Easter egg hunt. In 1995, Alice was honored for her ESL work with a J.C. Penny Golden Rule Award and, a few years later, received a Mayor's Award for exceptional community service. Fanning fondly remembered that Alice's husband had to drag her to these award ceremonies because she felt her students deserved recognition for their achievements, not her. Fanning recently told Alice's son: "You and your family should know what an impact Alice made on our staff and our students at Hawthorne. She was quite the lady!"
Alice is survived by her husband, Donald; son, Harry (Julie) Hoffman, of Rochester; daughter, Martha Hoffman, of St. Paul; step-son Robert (Barbara) McIlrath, of St. Paul; step-daughter Jane (Doug) Ritts, of Duluth; and seven grandchildren: Peter and William Hoffman; Alexandra and Andrew Ritts; and Emily, Christina, and Ben Gosack. She is also survived by her brother, Douglas Craig, of White Plains, NY.
Alice's family wishes to thank her many wonderful caregivers at Saint Marys Hospital, Homestead Rehab Unit #1, Mayo Hospice and Home Instead who looked after her so well in the final ten weeks of her life.
Memorials are suggested to the Adult Literacy Program, Hawthorne Education Center, 700 4th Avenue SE, Rochester, MN 55904, Attention: Nadine Holthaus.
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