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bill hoffman

Bill Hoffmann has gradually built a 24-foot model train layout with a 12-foot extension in his basement.

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

DECATUR — Dr. Bill Hoffman is a storyteller. He’ll regale you with tales about his Boy Scouting experiences, his Chicago White Sox World Series jacket, how to hit a baseball and a golf ball and the sinking ship he was on in World War II.

Then, he’ll say: “C’mon down to the basement. I want to show you something.”

It is, indeed, “something.”

The most marvelous model train layout you’ll ever see takes up the entire space. The retired Decatur optometrist presses a button, and two trains run simultaneously. The background is meticulously fashioned in miniature, with all the bells and whistles imaginable. And there are shelves with more trains.

It’s a fantastic array, with 125 engines and a 12-by-24 foot layout that has an 8-by-10 foot leg with a Christmas theme.

“My son, Will, is 80 percent owner,” Hoffman said. “It’s not the biggest layout in town; there’s a fellow who has an even bigger one. Just the same, I enjoy it.”

Along with trains, Hoffman — “Billy” to his family — has enjoyed baseball.

He recalls the days he worked with Decatur Commodores minor league players at Fans Field on their hitting and stance and telling them to imagine there is a chalk line the ball will follow to the plate. “The eyes play a tremendous role in athletics,” he maintains. “The body reacts to what the eye sees.”

Growing up in Chicago and playing sandlot baseball, he wasn’t much of a hitter. Then he read a book by Ted Williams about hitting and taught himself to see the ball. Williams was the last player in the majors to hit .400. Many argue that Williams was the best hitter of all time. “He could see the ball,” Hoffman explains.

“When I was in the Philippines during World War II, I played softball, and I could hit,” Hoffman said with pride.

He’s also proud of being affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America for 63 years as a Scout, neighborhood commissioner, Scoutmaster and Cub Master with Troop 19.

“I had a good time in Scouting,” he said. “I retired last December.”

One thing he’ll never retire from is being a White Sox fan.

“I’ve had 81 years with the ups and downs of the Sox,” and with the way the White Sox have been hitting and winning, he’s in seventh heaven.

Hoffman was interested in chemical agriculture as a young man and then was an English teacher before he switched to optometry. He came to Decatur in 1953, after abandoning a plan to practice in Texas because of too much red tape. He opened an office in 1955 at 201 N. Edward St. and put in 50 years before retiring. And, at age 88, he still sees the humor all around us.


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