Jack Hoffman bought 300 acres of slightly rolling farmland northwest of Chicago in 1953 and covered it with three-bedroom ranch-style houses, seeding the suburb that now bears his name, Hoffman Estates.
Mr. Hoffman, 85, died of a brain hemorrhage Tuesday, Dec. 16, in Highland Park Hospital, said his son Buz. He was a resident of Highland Park.
With his father, Sam, a Russian immigrant, Mr. Hoffman got into the building business during the housing boom that followed World War II. They formed F&S (for Father and Son) Construction in Phoenix and quickly put up about 5,000 homes there, expanding operations to Western cities including Salt Lake City, Denver and Albuquerque.
Opportunity beckoned back in Illinois, especially to the northwest of Chicago with the expansion of O'Hare International Airport and the construction of Interstate Highway 90.
Construction of new houses got under way on Mr. Hoffman's first piece of land in 1954, and the first residents moved in a year later.
Eventually, Mr. Hoffman's company would build some 5,000 homes in the town incorporated in 1959 as Hoffman Estates. Residents that year voted to name the new city Twinbrook, after the local telephone exchange. But Mr. Hoffman's influence led the homeowners association's board of directors to dismiss the popular vote.
In the early days, Mr. Hoffman would negotiate land deals over shots of schnapps with descendants of the German farmers who originally settled the area, said his son Ed.
Mr. Hoffman donated land and construction costs for several schools and parks in the village, as well as a synagogue and Lutheran and Catholic churches, said Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod. In 1957, over the objections of some residents, Mr. Hoffman sold a home to an African-American family.
"He was a very generous guy, a very gregarious guy," McLeod said.
Hoffman Estates continued to grow rapidly for many years, and its current population now tops 50,000. Mr. Hoffman's business agenda, making money by building affordable homes, matched neatly with his idea that home ownership was an integral piece of the American dream, Buz Hoffman said.
"He didn't start a town. He built a subdivision," said Buz Hoffman, who noted that his father was happy, if a touch embarrassed, when he saw the first water tower go up with "Hoffman Estates" emblazoned on it.
Mr. Hoffman was born in Detroit and grew up on Chicago's West Side. His father was a plasterer for many years before borrowing money to go into construction.
After graduating from Austin High School, Mr. Hoffman received a degree in accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His original intent was to be an actuary. But being wary of anti-Semitism in the insurance industry at the time, he opted to go into business with his father, his family said.
His college years were interrupted by World War II, during which he was a signalman in the Navy and sailed the Atlantic aboard oil haulers and other ships.
Sam Hoffman died in 1960, and F&S' Western operations wound down soon afterward. In 1968, F&S changed its name to Hoffman Rosner Corp. and went public while expanding briefly to the Philadelphia area. Mr. Hoffman took the company private again in 1976 and changed its name to Hoffman Homes.
Mr. Hoffman was the first president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicagoland.
Mr. Hoffman sold his company and retired in 1988, having survived the housing downturn of that decade, the latest of several cyclical housing recessions he had endured in his career.
"He had some very tough times. He just never gave up," said Ed Zale, a friend since childhood and a fellow builder. "He was a person who was very honest, and his word was his bond."
In addition to his two sons, Mr. Hoffman is survived by his wife of 57 years, Selma; two daughters, Bonnie Lustig and Robbie Schreiber; and seven grandchildren.
Services are set for 10 a.m. Friday in Chicago Jewish Funerals Chapel, 195 N. Buffalo Grove Rd., Buffalo Grove.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun