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South Dakota agriculture teacher remembered for being dedicated, enthusiastic

Longtime Mitchell High School teacher Jeff Hoffman, pictured here on his rural Bridgewater farm, died Aug. 21 after a six-year battle with cancer. Colleagues at the school said Hoffman would be remembered for his tireless efforts to improve the agriculture program at the school and his inspirational bravery in the face of a deadly disease, which claimed his left leg in 2015. (Matt Gade/Republic)

MITCHELL, S.D. — A longtime Mitchell Public School teacher is being remembered as a talented, enthusiastic instructor after his battle with cancer.

Jeff Hoffman, who taught agriculture at Mitchell High School from 2008 to 2019, died Aug. 21 after a six-year fight with metastatic synovial sarcoma, a form of cancer that attacks soft tissues in the body. He was 53. He resigned at the end of the 2018-19 school year to tend to his health.

Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District, remembered Hoffman as a popular, gifted teacher who enhanced the learning experience of the students he guided through his classroom.

“It’s very difficult to lose Jeff. He had resigned at the end of last year because he knew his health would not allow him to continue,” Graves said. “The kids loved him, and he was so good for the program.”

A native of Bridgewater, S.D., Hoffman grew up on a farm southwest of the small town and graduated from Bridgewater High School as valedictorian in 1984, according to an obituary published in The Daily Republic. He studied agriculture education at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1988. He later returned for his master’s degree.

He taught at Artesian High School but soon moved back to Bridgewater where he taught agriculture and served as FFA advisor for 18 years. He also worked as an agronomist at Hefty Seed in Baltic and Ed’s Fertilizer in Emery.

Graves said while Hoffman was an outstanding teacher in the field of agriculture, he was also excellent in helping his students understand the lessons of life. His bravery in the face of a deadly disease was something he displayed to both his students and his fellow faculty members. When the sarcoma claimed his left leg in 2015, he continued to teach and live his life, setting an example for his students, Graves said.

“The thing I’ll never stop admiring him for was that he fought," Graves said. "He fought this thing just far beyond any expectations. And he always did it with a smile on his face. If nothing else, and with all the other great things he did, what a great role model he was for our kids.”

Joe Childs, principal at Mitchell High School, said Hoffman was a model teacher who worked tirelessly to improve the agriculture program at the school and encourage students to take part in it.

“Jeff encapsulated everything we want in someone who works with students. He was able to get along with and teach and work with students from all classes and grade levels, and he was the type of man who put in the time,” Childs said. “And he did that until he absolutely could no longer do it.”

Hoffman was a familiar face around school early in the day and late into the night, and even leading up to his resignation from the district, he was working to improve the learning experience for his students, Childs said.

“Up until a month before he turned in his resignation, he was looking at redoing the curriculum and looking at things that would draw interest from the kids,” he said. “Jeff never coasted, he never sat back and thought this is good enough. He always wanted to find ways to make the program better to draw in more kids and help them along a path to help them get the credit they had earned.”

His skill as a teacher and his constant forward-thinking and positive attitude makes his loss weigh even heavier on the minds of his former students and colleagues, Childs said.

“He never made an excuse for anything. It was absolutely 110 percent all the time. He was a great man. Just impeccable,” Childs said. “Anybody who has a son would be thrilled to have them turn out like Jeff.”

Hoffman's family includes his wife, Deanna, his father Jerry, and daughters Logan and Sydney, and four sisters, according to the obituary. A visitation was held Tuesday at St. Stephen’s Church in Bridgewater, and a funeral was planned for Wednesday at Holy Family Church in Mitchell.