St Paul, MN – Ferne Eloise (Hack) Hoeft, two days shy of turning 101, passed away on November 27, 2022, in St. Paul, MN, surrounded by loving family. She was born on November 29, 1921, in Holmes, ND, to the Rev. George and Melvina (Frey) Hack. Ferne was united in marriage to Cpl. Merlin J. Hoeft, Berlin, WI, on February 27, 1944, at the Immanuel Evangelical Church, Jefferson, WI, in a ceremony performed by her father.
She was graduated from Fort Atkinson High School (WI) and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from North Central College, Naperville, IL, and her Wisconsin teaching certificate from St. Norbert College, DePere. She received post graduate credits in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, UW-Madison, and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Ferne was employed as Feature Editor of the Naperville Sun during World War II and edited Badger Tidings, state publication of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. She was the first reporter on the scene of a horrific train crash in Naperville, submitted the story to the Associated Press, and was credited with a byline.
She taught English and Journalism at Tremper High School, Kenosha, WI, from 1965 to 1982, where she made a profound impact on the lives of many of her students. A fierce defender of the integrity and power of the fourth estate, she went head to head with many a school administrator, and instilled this same passion in her budding journalists, including her son Mike. In the course of her career, she earned many national and regional awards and served on the councils of Women in Communications, Journalism Education Association and National Education Association.
She influenced young people in all the congregations she and Merlin served, from Reedsville to Milwaukee and Bonduel-Red River. With Merlin, she helped establish the EUB Camp Lucerne, where she was both counselor and participant, enjoying Family Camp with their young children, and later Grandparents camp with their granddaughters.
Travel and adventure were a joy for Ferne. The family took several cross-country camping trips, the first in 1964 to help build an adobe church in El Rito, New Mexico. Ferne made sure each stop included an educational opportunity for the kids. Following their retirement, they took their now adult children and spouses on trips to Alaska, Austria, Norway, Hawaii and the Caribbean, and to Disney World with the grandkids.
Ferne loved learning, researching and writing. (She even wrote the first draft of this obituary.) She was an avid reader of nonfiction, from Carl Jung’s theories on the meaning of life to the governance structures of nonprofit boards. Over coffee she would discuss philosophy with friends late into the night.
She was an archivist, preserving in a 3-ring binder the handwritten letters of the love story between herself and Merlin when he was serving in WWII.
Ferne was resilient. She successfully fought tuberculosis in the early 1950’s, before a reliable cure was known. She maintained her faith and strength despite being quarantined for two years in a sanatorium, away from her husband and young child. To keep up the spirits of her fellow patients, she wrote a short story “Murder in the San.” At 80, she faced breast cancer with the same resolve and positive attitude.
She and Merlin moved to Evergreen Retirement Community, Oshkosh, WI in 1996, where they quickly became integral to the fabric of the community for two decades. In addition to leading the Residents’ Council for many years, she adapted “Murder in the San” to play format, and directed 18 residents in stirring performances. The production ran for weeks.
She was preceded in death by her parents; two sisters, Ruth Hack and Pearl Scherman; two brothers, Orville and Walter Hack; her son-in-law Stewart Nelson; and her husband Merlin.
Survivors are her children Meryl Lee Nelson, Stevens Point; Michael (Patty) Hoeft, Oneida; Marjean Hoeft (Lisa Vecoli), Minneapolis; granddaughter Lauren (Kyle) Cornelius of Oneida, and their sons Owen and Evan; and granddaughter Olivia Hoeft (Sebastian von Zerneck), Oneida; and many nieces and nephews.
A funeral service and interment will be held at the Borth church in Wisconsin next summer. Her ashes will be interred with those of Merlin.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to Second Harvest Heartland or Southern Poverty Law Center.Read Less
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