Hi, my name is Jackie Hofs. At the age of 35, with 4 small children at home aged 10, 8, 3 and the last one only 8 months, I chose to go back to school fulltime in the 8 month Commercial Signwriting program (in later years called the Graphic Sign course) at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). I wanted to learn a skill I could do from home, in order to fulfill our dream of being an at-home mom to our children.
We made this effectively happen with the following help: for 2 ½ months I took them to a day home sitter who put the 2 oldest on the bus, and kept the 2 youngest all day; for the next 2 ½ months we hired a single lady to stay all day in our home with the children, also putting the 2 oldest on the bus, and then finally, my husband quit trucking for my last 3 months to be a stay-at-home dad – and to this day, still calls that time THE HARDEST JOB HE EVER DID!!
I drove 1 ½ hours one way from Westlock to Edmonton, leaving the house at 5:30am with the children (even all winter, which had many 40 below temps and wild snow storms!) to take them to the sitter.
I got back into the house, after gathering everyone up, often at 6:00pm to a thawed chunk of meat in the fridge to prepare a meal quickly for 5 hungry mouths. I cooked, cleaned, bathed, did homework with the kids, read bedtime stories, and baked cookies for lunch bags, until 10:00pm, and often midnight, and then…..began MY homework!! I had an easel in the kitchen, and would practice my brush strokes (we did not have classes with the computer back in 1991) by the hundreds, and then off to bed.
The alarm went off at 4:00am, and so began Day 2 of 240. Run out and scrape and start the car, shovel a path out of the driveway, bundle 4 kids in snowsuits and boots, strap them into car seats and drive through the often driving snow the 3 country road miles to the sitter. I remember, during these miserable mornings, one of my sons saying “Look at the diamonds in the snow”, because it sparkled in the headlights – and I would be reminded that I was doing all this for a bigger cause.
I did not miss a single day of classes! But I did come in late one day, after being stranded on Hwy 2 by Vimy with my alternator shot, flagging someone down to call for a tow truck, as I had NO CELL PHONE during my entire 8 months at school!
Another day I hit a deer in the morning in the winter dark, and another lady helped me drag it to the ditch. I got to school with a terrible smell of iron on me, and realized in the lights by my locker that I had deer blood all over my boots and hands!
My instructor would unabashedly use me as an example for the young people who lived across the street from NAIT in the apartments, who wouldn’t come to class because it was snowing. She said so many times, “If Jackie can get here, you guys have no excuses that will work on me!”
To even go back to school, I had spent hours researching grants or bursaries, or whatever I could to help me afford it. I actually was told I am the last one who was eligible for funding as a Mature Student, before they cancelled that program. Whew!
I loved, loved, loved my classes; I was the oldest and struggled a bit with loneliness at lunch time, but eventually befriended a young lady that encouraged me to join her in a lunch time fitness class. We went to that class the whole time I went to school! I had baby weight to lose, and I badly needed a friend – worked out great!!
I ended the course with the TOP mark in the class AND with honours! When people would be astonished that I did that, I would reply “Are you kidding? How could I not?” I had so much at stake and really considered this my one shot at more education; I remember just cringing when I asked a fellow student why he chose this class, and he told me that welding was full, so he applied for this one. Yikes! So many of them couldn’t have cared less to be there, but I was soaking it all up – I loved it, I loved the challenge, I loved the testing, and I felt ready for the world when I was done.
Though the drive was so long, I remember being a mom until Morinville (did I take the meat out? did I sign my son’s test paper? did I unplug the iron?) and then, like clockwork began thinking about my classes (I wonder if we’ll finish that sign today? I wonder if that guest speaker is this week? I wonder how I’ll do on Wednesdays’ test?). Then, after school, I did all the thinking in reverse – first half of trip was as a student, and then second half I became the mom again!! I often drove home with the warm, afternoon sun in my eyes that wanted to lull me to sleep (I was very sleep deprived!), and my insurance against that was a bag of popcorn that I had popped early every morning, and ate cold all the way home to stay awake. To this day, when I see a paper bag with oily stains on the outside, I recall that memory!
One of the greatest things that came out of this, was that my oldest child Graham, who was 10 when I started, and inside of a month turned 11, often complained of how hungry they were as they waited for me to drive home; he wanted to know if there was anything he could do to the meal to make it go faster. I would call him from NAIT before I drove away (remember: no cell phone!), and told him he could get 12 potatoes out and wash them with the brush, or else tear up the head of lettuce for the salad.
As time went on, I could trust him with bigger tasks: he could make some Jello pudding with milk, or else scrape the potatoes, or roll the meatballs. Much later, he could use the small paring knife to chop veggies, etc.
When I was done, he made our family a meal of spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread!! One of his first jobs when he finished school was to work in the kitchen at Earl’s!!
We rented at the time, and after graduation I asked our landlord if he would build us a double garage for me to open my sign shop in. He agreed, raised the rent, and I was off to the races!
I converted it completely to a sign shop, bought a Gerber IV, and started spreading the word. I had an intercom to the house, and it took years for the children to actually know that I was running a business – because they could reach me all the time.
I ran that full time for 4 years from that garage, lettering trucks out in the driveway, and often hiring NAIT graduates to help me. John Taylor (future owner of King Stamp & Sign notoriety) worked a summer with me, helping me get all the work that came in done!!
After those 4 years, we were able to buy an acreage a few miles away, and still in the country, with a 1700 square foot shop that became my Sign Shop. I could pull a semi inside, and lettered hundreds of truck doors from that location, as well as countless commercial and residential signs, including cedar sandblasted signage for golf courses and farm/ranch operations.
The intercom allowed the children to be in contact with me after school, and as they grew, they helped me with numerous jobs in the shop. I ran that location for 7 years, and only shut it down to realize our dream to live on the East coast; my husband and I moving with the children to Nova Scotia, where I opened another sign shop again, running it for 3 years before we moved back to Alberta to help with my ailing mom who had Alzheimer’s disease.
I’ve stayed with the sign industry since that time, serving as the General Manager for Advantage Signs for 9 years. It’s been a wonderful journey; I wouldn’t change a bit of it!
on Thursday, November 5th, 2015 at 9:48 am.