By Renée Zimelis Ruchotzke
Thanks to Tom Hardesty for sharing his fond memories of the Kent Community Store. I remember shopping there when I moved to Kent in 1985 and also have fond memories. But my fonder memories are of Kent Community Store’s founder, the late George Hoffman, who was a close family friend. I met him in the mid 1990s through our sons, who have been best friends since preschool.
George grew up in Cuyahoga Falls in a hard-working Catholic Slovak family. In his high school years he witnessed some injustices and hypocrisies that inspired him to be an advocate for civil rights. He went to Kent State and got a job as a janitor to pay his way. (He often told people that he wasn’t a hippie, because he had a proper job.) He was also an activist against the Vietnam War, first as part of the Student Religious Liberals, providing anti-war information at the Student Union and conscientious objector counseling at the Yellow Unicorn coffee house in the basement of the Unitarian Universalist church.
He eventually joined the Students for a Democratic Society and helped to start a local non-violent branch. They rented a house together, complete with a printing press in the kitchen to turn out anti-war pamphlets. George was the detail guy who made sure the rent was paid, that they had the correct credentials to be an official student organization on campus, and that the bull horns and speakers were properly checked out and returned.
George was horrified when the protests became violent in early May of 1970. After the burning of the ROTC building and looting downtown, he and his other non-violent SDS friends left town and headed out west to avoid getting caught up in the turmoil and waited several months before returning home.
In the aftermath, those peace activists who remained in the Kent community turned their attention toward the local instead of the global. The Kent Natural Foods Co-op has its origins during this time. This is when George decided to open the Kent Community Store. At first, it sold health food and clothes along with the record albums, but it eventually became the record store that Tom Hardesty remembers.
Around the time the store closed, he married Karen Allen, one of the group of close-knit friends who lived in the brick rowhouse apartments on Mantua. They had one son, a redhead who they named William. George then worked as an accountant for a series of local nonprofits and served on several nonprofit boards until his death in 2009. He was one of those many unsung heroes in our community whose memory is held only by a small group of friends and family.
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George is referenced many times in Tom Grace’s book on Kent State & May 4. You can obtain the text of his PHD thesis on line which contains much of what is in the book.