Charles H. Hoeflich passed away this morning at the age of ninety-seven. All of us at ISI received the news with great sadness. Charlie, as he was known affectionately, was a founding trustee of the Institute, playing an active and essential role in the organization from its beginning in 1953 right up until the present. The following profile, originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of ISI’s Canon, gives a sense of the profound impact Charlie made on ISI and the lives of so many he touched.
In April 1956, a handful of men met at 407 Lafayette Building, a small office across the square from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was the home of ISI’s first official headquarters, and the organization was getting down to business: updating its by-laws, appointing key personnel, and establishing a board of trustees. Among those present that day were three men who would prove to be vital to the life of ISI for the next half a century.
First, there was E. Victor Milione, who would serve as ISI president for over twenty-five years and a trustee for over twenty more. Next was William F. Buckley Jr., ISI’s first president, who would continue to be involved as a lecturer and advisor for decades to come. Finally, there was Charles H. Hoeflich, who still today, at the age of ninety-five, remains an active ISI trustee.
With the deaths of Milione and Buckley within just weeks of one another in 2008, Hoeflich is the only living founder of the Institute. After so many years of generous support and faithful service, he thinks back to his first involvement with ISI and is quick to state, “If I had had my wishes then, I certainly would have wanted to be a part of ISI fifty years later. I love ISI.”
Hoeflich grew up just outside of Philadelphia, where his father, a 1910 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, owned a wholesale hardware company with national distribution. After graduating from West Philadelphia High School, Hoeflich won a scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Art. As he puts it, though, “It didn’t take me long to see that Rembrandt I would never be.” Thus, he decided to turn his love of economics and accounting into a career path and enrolled in Wharton, the business school of the University of Pennsylvania.
As graduation approached, Hoeflich determined that he wanted to go into commercial banking and looked to get a job at Philadelphia National Bank (PNB). “It was the best commercial bank in the city,” he recalls. But when Hoeflich went in and asked for a job, the cashier in charge of hiring told him that he never hired college graduates. After several visits and continued rebuffs, Hoeflich told the cashier: “I’ll tell you what, I’m going out on the other side of the door, and I’m going to come in again, and we’ll pretend that I’m just coming in out of high school.” He left the bank, reentered, and was hired. “He must have liked my guts,” Hoeflich says with a laugh over seventy years later. “I graduated from Wharton on June 10, 1936, and started at PNB on June 11.” Hoeflich stayed at the bank for over twenty-five years, leaving only to serve for four years in the air transport command of the Air Force during World War II.
In 1962, the board of Souderton Bank, headquartered about thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia, solicited him to serve as head of their bank. “I told them, ‘No thank you,’ but they persisted,” says Hoeflich. Finally, one of the trustees asked Hoeflich if he had prayed about the decision. Hoeflich told him no because he was afraid that God might say yes—“and I didn’t want to go.” But the trustee told him that if God said no, they would understand and stop asking. Thus, Hoeflich agreed to pray about it, and additionally solicited prayers from two close friends and his pastor. “Inside of forty-eight hours, I had so many leadings that I said, ‘Oh, let me up, I’ll go.’” And go he did, leaving behind the life he loved in the city: lunches at the Union League, evenings at the orchestra, shopping at Wanamaker’s department store, and many close friends in high places. “People thought I was crazy,” he says. But just a month after moving to the Pennsylvania countryside, he took a day off to return to the city, and recalls, “When I got in my car to go home, I could not wait to get back here.”
In his over twenty years as the head of Souderton Bank (now Univest), Hoeflich built it from a small enterprise with $14 million in commercial loans and $2.2 million in trust assets into a complete financial holding company with $2 billion in commercial paper and a $1 billion trust function. Although he officially retired more than two decades ago, he continues to sit on all policy committees for the bank and still chairs two of them. He also keeps up with several accounts, including the historic Piper Tavern, just a few miles from his house, where he first dined in 1924 on the way to summer camp with his parents. A frequent customer—as well as financial advisor—since his move to Bucks County, he can tell you just about anything you want to know about the quaint 1778 tavern, down to where it gets its meats and coffee. This continued dedication to Univest clientele embodies the bank’s mission to know its customers personally and maintain deep ties to the local community. In an era of national buyouts and mergers, Univest has remained one of the strongest locally based financial institutions in southeastern Pennsylvania, thanks in large part to Hoeflich’s leadership and example. As George Anders wrote in a Wall Street Journal article on businesses gaining wisdom from older directors, “For an extreme example of staying power as the years pile up, it is hard to beat Mr. Hoeflich,” with his “timeless advice” and “lessons of a seventy-year career in banking.”
The same rings true for Hoeflich’s relationship with ISI. After more than fifty years on the board of trustees—including over ten years as chairman of the board and over forty years as secretary-treasurer—there is no one whose ongoing involvement with the organization surpasses his. “Since coming to ISI as CEO in 1989,” relates current president T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., “I have never made an important decision regarding ISI’s future without Charles Hoeflich’s exquisite counsel. Charlie has been intimately involved in every stride forward that ISI has made in its mission to ‘Educate for Liberty.’”
Hoeflich was introduced to ISI by E. Victor Milione—ISI’s first official staff member and longtime president. The two men met in the early 1950s through Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System (ACES). Hoeflich was on the board of trustees and Milione worked for the group, bringing economic education programs to high schools and service clubs in the greater Philadelphia area. “We sat next to each other at the meetings,” recalls Hoeflich, “and got chummy.” When Milione left ACES to help ISI founder Frank Chodorov promote what was then known as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, he asked Hoeflich to be on the board. “I was just wild enough to say yes,” he says. “I liked the name.” As well as being elected a “founder member” of the board, he was unanimously chosen to serve as secretary-treasurer at the April 1956 meeting. He held that position until 1997, when he was named secretary-treasurer emeritus. Hoeflich also served as chairman of the board on two separate occasions, seeing ISI through transitions in leadership as well as the many financial challenges associated with governing a nonprofit organization.
Hoeflich is full of memories about the early days of ISI, including meeting at a racquet ball club before ISI had its own offices and the evening he lent William F. Buckley Jr. his driver’s license so that Buckley could rent a car to drive back to New York City after missing the last train from Philadelphia due to a late-night ISI meeting. “Thankfully, he got it right back to me within a day or two,” Hoeflich chuckles.
When asked if there are any ISI programs that he has been particularly fond of over the years, Hoeflich replies immediately: “Yes, all of them. There’s no ISI project that I have not been fond of.” He gives three primary reasons for his devotion to ISI. First, because it promotes conservative principles. Second, because its mission is spiritually oriented. “I pray every night,” he says, “that everything ISI says, does, and prints will be godly.” Finally, he says, “ISI does what it says it’s going to do. I can depend on ISI to go down the road I want it to go and to teach young people what they need to know to move this country forward. At ninety-five, I’m placing my bet on the new generation through ISI.”
In recognition of his invaluable contributions to the Institute, Hoeflich was awarded ISI’s lifetime achievement award in 2000. At the same time, the board unanimously resolved to rename the award in his honor. Subsequent recipients of the Charles H. Hoeflich Lifetime Achievement Award include: Gerhart Niemeyer, author and political philosopher; William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review; Richard A. Ware, longtime president of the Relm and Earhart foundations; M. Stanton Evans, author and founder of the National Journalism Center; and most recently, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation.
These days, when he’s not still serving Univest or ISI in some capacity, Hoeflich enjoys reading, entertaining visitors at his forty-acre Elderberry Farm (with a house dating back to 1711), and spending time in prayer in the gardens that he has been cultivating for over forty years. “There’s nothing more joyful to me than to sit where I’m sitting right now,” he says from a shaded bench surrounded by cornfields and an assortment of rhododendron, holly, aspens, and other varieties of his favorite trees and plants. After a lifetime of service and support to Univest, ISI, and countless other good causes, Hoeflich has undoubtedly earned every moment of peace he now finds at Elderberry Farm.