I am a small town boy. Born March 9, 1939, I grew up in Yankton, South Dakota, the last upstream steamboat stop on the Missouri River. Yankton’s history reaches back to the Sioux Nation, from which the town draws its name. Lewis and Clark parlayed with the Lakota there. Decades later, it became a jumping off point for homesteaders, a campsite for Custer, a territorial capital, and in the 1920’s, the home to WNAX radio that once boasted it broadcast from the highest radio tower in the world. Huckleberry Finn would have felt right at home under the shade of the Hackberry and Elm trees.
My own family’s history is intimately tied to the history of South Dakota. My grandfather, John Hubert Hohn homesteaded, north and west of Yankton, staking out 360 acres that remains in the family today. As I wrote in my poem Family Portrait:
As an old man
Walked for three days,
Following the muddy artery
Down the right forearm of God,
Until he reached the last steamboat port
On the swirling Missouri
To claim with a handshake
And the stroke of a pen
What the natives revered
My father, Joseph M. Hohn, was the sixteenth child of a family of seventeen and the only one to receive a college education. He became a dentist and practiced in Yankton until his death in 1980. Dad and mom were veterans of the Dust Bowl. “Nobody had any money,” mother would explain. “Doc would get up in the morning and find a chicken and some turnips on the front porch from a patient as payment.“ Mother, Ileen Carlon Hohn, was an elementary school teacher. Mother followed dad out of life in 1985. Of the three children born to them, I am the middle child.
I have been writing all of my life. I first published at age 10 in the nationally circulated Pilot magazine, which was distributed by a children’s clothing manufacturer with a traffic signal icon. The concluding couplet to my winning verse: “You are always trying these foolish acts. When will you learn to trust known facts?” (That’s from memory-so be impressed.) When I was in the seventh grade, I placed first in a nationwide contest sponsored by “G. I. Joe” comics. In less than 25 words, I told the world why I wanted to be like G. I. Joe. My prize was a five-year subscription, an award I outgrew within a year of accepting it.
These auspicious beginnings occurred while I attended Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school. The nuns had to be relieved to see me graduate. I welcomed the change also. At Yankton Public High School, I would have five different teachers every day. It stacked the odds in their favor. They won me over. I became a student.
The middle 1950’s were a great time to be coming of age. World War II, although a fresh memory to our parents, was ancient history to us. Hard top convertibles with wrap-around windshields were capable of accelerating to 60 miles per hour in 8 seconds. Elvis, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly—shboom baby! The music took a turn during the era and never looked back.
I graduated in 1957 and turned down a Navy ROTC scholarship to marry my high school sweetheart, Elaine Finfrock who had graduated a year ahead of me. My father bought us a two bedroom, eight-foot wide trailer home that we parked behind a Phillips 66 gas station on Division Street in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I began my college years at St. John’s University (MN), commuting to school with other day students in the morning and returning in the afternoon to pump gas and do oil changes until it was time to lock up the station at 10:00, balance the receipts for the day, and go home to study.
I graduated with a degree in English in 1961 and began teaching that same year at St. John’s Prep School. In 1964, I joined The Travelers Insurance Company in Minneapolis, MN and began a 40-year career in the financial services industry. In addition to The Travelers, I held positions with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota and Wilson Learning Corporation in Minneapolis, and after moving to North Carolina in 1978, with Wachovia Bank and Trust and Merrill Lynch in Winston-Salem. I retired at the end of 2007 after 17 years as a Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch serving over 300 clients in the Winston-Salem, NC area.
Five wonderful children were born to Elaine and me—four boys and a girl. I am proud of each one of them and grateful for their friendship and love. Elaine and I divorced after 19 years of marriage in 1977. She died of colon cancer in 1986.
The arts have always been an active interest. I am a past president of The Youth Symphonies of Greater Minneapolis. I was a member of the Winston-Salem Symphony Chorale and on stage frequently in Little Theatre productions in Winston-Salem and the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance. In 2000, I published a small book of poetry.
I discovered the love of my life while at Wachovia Bank and Trust. In 1986, Melinda Folger McLeod and I were married. In a recent poem Valentine I wrote her:
I’d not hesitate
To relive any minute
That I have spent with you.
Melinda and I divide our time each year between our cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains near West Jefferson, NC and a cottage in the village of Southport on the Cape Fear River near Wilmington. Both locations feel like home. My stepson visits us with his family in both locations, and my own children are frequent guests as well.
I enjoy working out at the local gym, walking my dog Jessie, golf, music, touring Civil War battlefields, and reading history. Since retiring, I have focused completing my novel, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing Hedge Funds. I have been very gratified by the acceptance and reviews the book has received and spend what idle minutes come my way every day thinking though the plot for my next book.