CHIPPEWA FALLS — Jake and Sandi Hoff routinely meet with people to discuss creating a long-lasting memorial to a loved one.
As owners of Chippewa Monument Co. in the town of Wheaton, the Hoffs listen to their stories, and help design a monument that matches the life story of the person being remembered on the stone.
“If I can make their day better, it makes me feel good,” said Jake Hoff. “I have a passion for this. You have to like to do this, if you are going to do it right.”
Sandi Hoff said it is common for people to have an initial visit that lasts two hours.
“Most customers probably only deal with this once or twice in their life,” she said. “I love working with the people; I’ve always been a people person. I’ve been a teacher and a (registered nurse.) So many times, as people leave, I get hugs.”
The Hoffs are closing their business, which they opened in the early 1990s on Highway X, about two miles west of Chippewa Falls city limits. They are moving this spring to La Crosse to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
“I decided on (retiring) three years ago, and I’ve been working on him,” Sandi Hoff said with a laugh.
Jake Hoff, 78, grew up in South Dakota, and he began working in the monument business in the 1960s.
He and Sandi married in 1993, and they moved to the town of Wheaton. Hoff worked at another monument business before deciding to open his own shop.
“I got started on it, and I never looked back,” he said with a shrug.
When he opened the business, Hoff did his own sand-blasting of the granite markers. Now, the carving and sandblasting is predominantly done by lasers at a facility in St. Cloud, Minn. There are more possibilities today, with more people having pictures laser-printed onto the stone, or having a ceramic picture embedded into the marker, Jake Hoff said.
When a customer comes in, that person usually would sit down with Sandi Hoff and a secretary, Char Ressler.
“We visit with them and find out what they are looking for,” Ressler said. “We pull up a program on the computer and we can show them a variety of models. We can make it look (on the computer) almost identical to what it will look like after it is sandblasted.”
However, it takes at least six weeks, and up to four months, for a monument to be completed after it is ordered, she added.
Ressler said she has enjoyed the job.
“You have to be very compassionate,” Ressler said. “You sit and hear about what happened to their loved ones.”
About one-third of all customers are people who are “planning ahead,” designing their own stones before their death, Ressler said.
The Hoffs also place the completed monuments in cemeteries. Hoff said he has a heavy-duty cart used to move the monuments — which can weight several hundred pounds each — from the truck to the burial plot.
“Once the ground freezes you are pretty well done until spring,” Jake Hoff said.
While the business is now closed and no longer taking orders, the Hoffs said that all stones already purchased this winter will be placed in cemeteries this spring as soon as the ground allows.