Elaine Hofer-Hermanson wanted her ashes to be scattered in Lake Michigan — a fitting final journey for a pioneering commodore with the U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary.
Ms. Hofer-Hermanson, 82, died Feb. 21 at Presence Resurrection Hospital. The Park Ridge resident had heart problems, said her friend Leslie Boulay.
Though she lived miles west of Lake Michigan and worked in an office, for 40 years she was active with a uniformed civilian group of volunteers known as the Coast Guard auxiliary. She helped with search-and-rescue missions, taught boating safety and conducted vessel inspections and volunteered with the Chicago Air and Water Show and the Mackinac Race.
Ms. Hofer-Hermanson rose to be the first female commodore of the Ninth Western Region of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. From 1988 to 1989, she supervised an estimated 3,000 volunteers on the west side of Lake Michigan, including Illinois, Wisconsin, northwest Indiana and part of Minnesota, according to Jay Katzman, who was once her public affairs officer. She was elected to the post by 15 or so auxiliary captains in the region.
She and her husband Donald, also a Coast Guard volunteer, owned a boat, the Doghouse III, which they kept at Montrose Harbor. They named it for Blackie, a water-loving stray black Labrador retriever they rescued. “That was his doghouse,” said longtime friend Barbara Redella.
They were among the auxiliary members who stationed their private boats in the water to maintain safety zones for vessels to pass on Venetian Night and at the Mackinac Race and the Chicago Air and Water Show.
“They would take their boat and volunteer to be out there to maintain safety for the parade,” said Bill Russell, a former division commander in the auxiliary and retired marine science technician with the Coast Guard.
She was born in Chicago to immigrant parents. Her father Rudi was from Bregenz in Austria, according to Boulay, and her mother Ellen Victoria Issackson was from Sweden. Her mother died when she was about 10.
As a child, her father, a maitre d’ at what’s now called the Hilton Chicago, often took her boating on Lake Michigan. “The water was her passion,” said Redella.
Young Elaine also loved horseback riding at a stable near River Road. After graduating from Waller High School — now Lincoln Park High — she completed two years of college and began working for Combined Insurance, the company founded by positive mental attitude enthusiast W. Clement Stone.
“She was in charge of the government contracts,” Katzman said. “She was constantly dealing with people and different personalities so she had people skills.”
She had two cats she loved — Cody and B.C., which stood for Black Cat.
“She did not cook, never used her stove in her life,” Boulay said, “not even for a frozen pizza.”
Around 5 p.m. every day, “She would call all the people in her life and talk about how they were doing,” Boulay said.
Ms. Hofer-Hermanson was stubbornly independent. Years ago, she broke a bone in her knee and shattered a heel, Boulay said. “She crawled to her bedroom, slept there all night in pain and then crawled down her stairs into her kitchen to feed her cats before she called someone,” Boulay said. “She didn’t want to bother someone.”
She traveled around the world, including safaris to Tanzania and Kenya, pack rides through the Canadian Rockies and trips to Tahiti and South America.
She is also survived by her sister-in-law Ardelle Scohy and stepbrother Charles Selinka.
Friends are discussing whether they’ll be able to ferry her ashes to Lake Michigan via the USCGC Mackinaw, the Coast Guard’s famed Christmas ship. The ice-breaker transports Christmas trees from Michigan to Navy Pier, where scouts and other volunteers unload and distribute them to needy families.