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Walter Edward Hoffsommer 1880-1922


Family Group Sheet

Husband: Walter Edward Hoffsommer

Born: 1 AUG 1880 in: Battle Hill Twp, McPherson Co, Kansas

Died: 23 DEC 1922 in: Peking, China

Buried: in: Tokyo, Japan

Other: (1:8)[2:1] in: JG:1.03

Ref: E334213/2 Occupation: Ed.D., Princ. ASIJ, Tokyo

Father: Conrad Hoffsommer Mother: Mary Melinda Wohlfarth

Descendant line:

WALTER EDWARD HOFFSOMMER...Fifth Generation, son of Conrad and M. Melinda Wohlfarth Hoffsommer, Walter Edward was born August 1, 1880, at Battle Hill, McPherson county, Kansas. He first attended school in Newton, Kansas, and later in several cities in Pennsylvania, the first being Hazleton, to which city his parents moved in 1888. Following high school graduation, he attended several colleges; and in 1903, he was graduated from Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania. While he was in college, he had joined the Student Volunteers. Tho opportunity for doing missionary and educational work in a foreign field presented itself, and he was appointed to Tokyo, Japan. This appointment was under the auspices of the Reformed Church of North America. Before going to Japan, Walter married Grace Posey

on July 30, 1907, and in August of that year, they went to their new field of work.

He was appointed to a professorship in the Meiji Gakuin, a Union Missionary College in Tokyo. Some years later while in this position, he was granted a furlough to the States, and upon completion of required work in Columbia University, New York City, he received the Ph.D. degree in 1917. In 1920, he became head of the American School in Tokyo, an institution which had been established by women representing Germany, England and Canada, for elementary and pre-college education for foreigners in Japan. In December 1922, he went on a business-mission in the interests of such schools in the Orient. He visited Korea, Manchuria and China.

At Peking, China, during the night of December 23, he became asphyxiated while a guest in the home of a professor of the Union Language at that place. The body was cremated and the ashes sent to Tokyo where funeral services were held January 8, 1923, in the American School. Burial was in the Buddhist cemetery behind Meiji Gakuin in a plot of ground where also are buried several members of Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches, who had died while in the service on the foreign field.

Children born to this union were Abigail, Walter Alfred, Joyce, Richard Posey (born May 4, 1920; died January 1921) and Kay Posey. During the time that Walter's widow remained in Japan, she assisted in establishing the first business course in the American School, and she also conducted the first dormitory and eating hall as co-executor on the premises. The family came to the States in March 1929, by way of Panama Canal and first lived in Philadelphia. The mother and oldest daughter, Abigail, now reside in New York City.

(1993) The family remained in Tokyo in order to finish the childrens' education. Abigail left Japan first to attend Carleton College in Minnesota. Grace and two of her three remaining children, Joyce and Kay, embarked on January 3, 1939 and went first to live in Mounteville, Pennsylvania. They stayed with Grace's sister and family in Mounteville until relocating to Philadelphia. Grace invested in a small 'mom & pop' grocery store at 5700 Warrington Avenue in the West Philadelphia part of the city.

The store ultimately proved unsuccessful and Grace moved to New York City, where she passed away in 1972. She is buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

"Previous to 1920, Dr. W.E. Hoffsommer, a member of the Board of Trustees, had been serving as chairman of the Educational Committee. He was released from his duties with the Dutch Reformed Mission in order to serve as principal of the school. He reorganized the entire curriculum."

"...By 1921 the school appeared to have become stabilized under the capable and industrious guidance of Dr. Hoffsommer. Enrollment reached 120 students; 12 full- time and 8 part-time teachers were employed. The American diplomatic, business and missionary community breathed a deep sigh of relief -- it had been a long, arduous struggle. The Board of Trustees could now direct their attention to the cares of the day. Two complaints had been registered against the children of the school. One was "rowdyism" and the other was the "faulty use of English" -- this being defined as the use of slang and the use of "Midwest" pronunciation. With regard to "rowdyism," the principal's report to the Board related that one teacher had thirty pupils between 10 and 14 years of age and spent her day "oiling places of friction caused by children of our best families."

The tragic death of Dr. Hoffsommer during Christmas vacation in 1922 while on a tour of the schools for foreign children in China, was a severe blow. Due to Dr. Hoffsommer's outstanding organizational skills, however, the school continued to operate smoothly under the direction of Mr. Paul Gordon, the first coach hired for ASIJ's athletic program." Excerpted from The ACCJ Journal 9/5/1977. The Journal is published by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The edition quoted featured an extensive 75 year anniversary of the American School in Japan.

"Alfred Hoffsommer found the grave of his father, Dr. W.E. Hoffsommer (ASIJ Principal 1920-22), located in a plot along with other Jeiji Gakuin teachers, in the Zuishi-ji Temple in Shirogane Dai, Tokyo - right across the street from the Happo-en Gardens, which are behind Meiji Gakuin. The temple was originally supported by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Meiji Gakuin has been contributing to care of the burial plot these many years." Quotes from the Alumni news section of the Fall 1991 ASIJ Shimbun, an alumni newsletter of the ASIJ. Alfred and Miyoko Bassett Hoffsommer are pictured in the Fall issue and also in the Winter 1992 issue. They were on a visit to Japan during May of 1991. JG: 1.03 - JCH 16/5-4


To: From: Ray Downs

Subject: Walter E. Hoffsommer

Dear Bruce Hoffsommer, Your e-mail concerning your grandfather was referred to me. Since I have been associated with ASIJ since 1937 as, successively, student, teacher, parent, headmaster, and now archivist; I'm the logical person to try to help you out. My wife (also a faculty member) and I very much enjoyed talking with your father when he was here for the alumni visit in 1989. He and your aunt Abigail certainly know more than I about your grandfather's time at ASIJ. However, I'll be glad to assist you if I can.

You asked for official 'words' regarding your grandfather's impact on the school. I found the following in minutes of the Executive Committee of the school's Board of Trustees for January 1923:


1. That in the sudden death of Dr. W.E. Hoffsommer, the American School In Japan has suffered an irreparable loss. To his fidelity and devotion as well as to the ability and training which he brought to his work the School owes the rapid and satisfactory progress which it has made during the past two years. Under his supervision the school on the one hand has achieved acknowledgments by colleges abroad which are evidence of the high quality of its work from the professional standpoint, and on the other hand, owing in part large part to the personal influence which Dr. Hoffsommer exerted, the morale of the school has reached a high point and it has been one of the most important activities of the Anglo-American community.

2. That the Board of Trustees hereby acknowledge their appreciation of Dr. Hoffsommer's work and their sorrow and regret that it should so tragically be terminated.

3. That the deep sympathy of the Board be extended to Mrs. Hoffsommer and her children and that a copy of this resolution be sent to her.

(signed) James F. Abbot J. N. Heymann Committee

The Catalogue of the school for 1923 has in its opening pages the statement which also is affixed to the sundial erected in your grandfather's memory. The sundial was moved from the school's 1927-63 site to it's present location in the Student Court in 1963.

IN MEMORIAM Walter E. Hoffsommer - Who chose to walk with youth as a friend, pointing the way ahead and teaching the lessons of life; whose memory the students of the American School hold as an inspiration, whose character they strive for as an ideal, and whose absence they mourn. I hope this information will be of use to you.

Ray F. Downs Headmaster Emeritus The American School In Japan

Wife: Grace Posey

Married: 30 JUL 1907 in: Steelton, PA

Born: 14 JAN 1885 in: Oberlin, PA

Died: 25 FEB 1972 in: New York, NY

Buried: in: Lancaster, PA

Father: Henry Gross Posey

Mother: Annie Elizabeth Gerhart

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