Josephine Pagliai Hofmann
Josephine Pagliai Hofmann died on Jan 20, 2014 at age 97 at Friendship Manor, Goleta with her son and her caregiver at her side. Her last words were, “I’m going home” and surely she meant the coal mining camp of her childhood from which, in her heart of hearts, she never really left. Her life was rooted in the American immigrant experience. Born in a remote mountain village in Northern Italy in 1916, she came through Ellis Island in 1921 with her mother to join her father in a coal mining camp in Madrid, Iowa populated by Italians, Croatians, Poles, Swedes and other immigrant groups.
These miners and their families spoke a cacophony of languages but somehow were able to communicate with one another. As a child Josie became an amateur ethnographer and to the end of her days invariably asked people she met, “What is your nationality?” Frequently the target of ‘Dago’ or a ‘Wop’ as a child, she developed a deep empathy for ethnic minorities. One of her son’s earliest memories is of his mother bringing home for a visit a Hispanic boy from a nearby public housing project who must have reminded her of the children in the mining camp.
She grew up in an area of town dubbed Boxtown by locals, rudimentary housing lacking indoor plumbing provided by the mining company for its workers. Her Americanization was rapid. Known as Pepina to her parents, she returned from school one day to proclaim, “The teacher says my name is Josephine now.” She embraced assimilation enthusiastically, quickly learning unaccented English, but also benefited from her tough immigrant DNA. A chest X-ray as an adult revealed that, unbeknownst to her, she had contracted and overcome tuberculosis as an infant without treatment.
She joined the WAC’s in 1943, serving as a librarian in army hospitals. Her lifelong passion was writing and many of her poems and stories appeared in army publications. While in the army she met her future husband, Frederick and in 1947 the couple moved to Santa Barbara to raise their son, Fred. After divorcing in 1957, Josie worked as a secretary in the County Assessor’s Office and then at UCSB. With her son graduating from college in 1969, she determined that her child rearing was a Mission Accomplished, quit her job at age 52 and embarked on a five year odyssey, traveling alone through Europe and the Middle East living on the proverbial no frills $5 a day or less. She stayed for extended periods in Rome, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam, Dublin, London, West Berlin, Beirut and Damascus, sleeping for several days on a park bench in the Syrian capital in a dispute over rent with a landlord, a testament to her legendary feisty nature.
Returning to Santa Barbara in 1975, she was bitten again by the travel bug and hopped a bus that eventually took her to Las Vegas, where she lived for the next 25 years, accumulating a tidy sum employing the resourcefulness she had honed in her hardscrabble youth. She played bingo and keno only with free cards, scalped complementary coupons and gleaned the Las Vegas Strip for bounty carelessly dropped by inebriated gamblers.
Her health beginning to fail, she moved back to the Santa Barbara area to be close to her son in 2001, residing the last twelve years of her life at Friendship Manor where she became a beloved figure at bingo and at the dinner table, entertaining residents with her stories of her childhood in Boxtown, her mother stealing chickens that wandered into her yard during the Depression, the kind corner grocery who extended credit to Boxtown families, the frustrated union organizer unable to explain the concept of a labor grievance to the miners: “I have a grievance,” one said. “Two years ago some guy, he stole my pick!”
Josie is survived by her son Fred, a teacher with Santa Barbara City College. Special thanks to Visiting Nurses for Hospice services, the residents and staff at Friendship Manor who gave her so much TLC and to her wonderful caregiver, Benny Maturan and her assistants, Bea Roederer, Joy Bowman, Janice Nadeau, Kim Kumye, Martha Pena, Eve Richards, and Susan Lipsky who comprised “Team Josie”.
Donations in her name can be made to Friendship Manor, 6647 El Colegio Rd., Goleta, CA 93117. A memorial bingo bash with refreshments will be held in her honor there.