Ephrata’s own Gen. Hobbins featured guest at Historical Society anniversary celebration

By on October 11, 2017
Gen. William Thomas “Tom” Hobbins and his wife Robbin helped celebrate the historical society’s 60th anniversary Oct. 7. Photo by Michele Walter Fry

Gen. William Thomas “Tom” Hobbins and his wife Robbin helped celebrate the historical society’s 60th anniversary Oct. 7. Photo by Michele Walter Fry

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. William Thomas Hobbins greeted a packed dining room at Foxchase Golf Club on Oct. 7 at the 60th Anniversary of the Historical Society of Cocalico Valley.

Not one seat was open, and the mood was more like a family reunion party than a banquet dinner.

A 1964 graduate of Ephrata High School, Hobbins was jovial and the night meant more to him than speaking at a function.

“A lot of these people are my high school friends,” said Hobbins. “Some attended my four-star promotion ceremony when I was in D.C.”

Hobbins was asked what it was like growing up in Ephrata.

“Mayberry R.F.D. comes to mind,” said Hobbins. “Let me begin by giving glory to God. I’m a Christian and I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior, and I’m a firm believer that God has a purpose for everyone. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he had a lot of doing in what I did to get to this level, without him guiding my steps all the way.”

Robbins was former commander for the United States Air Forces in Europe, The NATO Allied Air Component Command, and Director of the Joint Air Power Competence Centre, and Ramstein AFB in Germany.

Hobbins’ speech seemed prioritized.

“I’m most proud of my wife, Robbin’s phenomenal success in raising five children,” said Hobbins. “We will celebrate 38 years of marriage this year. Without Robbin’s sacrifices, tonight wouldn’t be possible. We moved 19 times and our children all graduated overseas’ schools.”

“My grandmother was one of the best human beings I have ever met, Laura Burkholder Mentzer,” said Hobbins. “She lived to serve others. Ivan and Laura lived on South State Street. Still that little white house on the corner is there.”

Service to others is important to this area, Hobbins said.

“I’m forever grateful for the values I got by growing up in the Ephrata community that I needed to rise to this rank,” said Hobbins. I believe we were heavily influenced by religion in the Cocalico Valley and from that, service to others.”

Hobbins talked about differences between the past and now.

“We lived in a time when respect and dignity were a fact of life,” said Hobbins. “We did not have an overbearing concern of political correctness that we do today.

The diversity in the Cocalico Valley community then was not as it is today. That meant we weren’t exposed to the cultural and racial biases, but none the less, our shared community values made us welcome to all races, all colors, and all creeds.”

Playing multiple sports, Hobbins was a star athlete in high school.

“All of these coaches had small town values and knew how to reign us in when we got our attitudes out of adjustment,” said Hobbins. “We were all raised with respect for others.”

Summer work at the Ephrata Shoe Company shaped Hobbins’ “life’s motivation and success.”

“When I went to the University of Colorado, I knew one thing for sure, I did not want to spend my post high school years putting hot wax on the soles of baby shoes,” said Hobbins.

Success in his hometown did not guarantee success outside, but Hobbins’ most profound words of the night explained how it could be accomplished.

“It’s hard to make others believe that it’s not about where you came from, what school you graduated from, or who you might be related to, it’s always about performance,” said Hobbins.

“I’m very fond of saying, and it applies directly to me in my success in the Air Force, hard work overcomes talent that doesn’t work hard.”

From an early age, Hobbins was interested in airplanes.

“I remember riding my bike to the top of that hill on Spring Garden St. where Spring Garden comes together with Chestnut, and I’d sit there on my bike and say, ‘Someday, I’m going to fly over that valley in my fighter jet,’” said Hobbins. “Well, I did just that in an F-15 in 1979, and I didn’t break any windows!”

Hobbins had leadership role models.

“Four generations of my family come from Ephrata and the historic Cocalico Valley and the only family to have four generations serve on Ephrata Borough Council starting with Allen Mentzer in 1891 and ending with my dad in 1961,” said Hobbins.

As only one of ten, four-star generals in the air force, Hobbins worked closely with presidents.

“President Clinton was very personable,” said Hobbins. “President George Bush was gentler in person than he ever was on TV, and very much a people-person.”

Questionably, the most interesting and not known thing about Hobbins is that he has been the lead guitarist (electric) and singer in a rock & roll bands.

“Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix) is my favorite,” said Hobbins.

Hobbins is looking for a drummer and bass player to start a local band.

“He’s the real deal,” said Joanne Kosleck Petito, a friend since grade school. “I traveled from Bethlehem because I had to be here for him.”

Angelo Miozza had a question for Hobbins about North Korea.

“If the president gave the command, does our military have the capability to take out all the military potential in North Korea before they have a chance to strike us, can we do it all at once?”

“They have tremendous fire power buried in the mountains just north of Seoul,” said Hobbins. “They can roll their canyons out of those caves, fire them and take them back in before anything can react to it. We have lots of capability to deal with them, we can preemptively strike many, many, ways. We’re trying not to antagonize this although I think we have a president who’s putting his foot down and saying, ‘I’m not taking this.’ We haven’t let the sanctions work.”

After the speech, Lowell Haws, president of HSCV, covered some housekeeping aspects of the society.

“The most significant event took place in 1989,” said Haws. “I refer to the hiring of our librarian, Cynthia Marquet whose knowledge and skill are still very much appreciated today.”

In the late winter, The HSCV will hold a special exhibit, displaying memorabilia from Hobbins’ military career.

Sponsors of the event:

Fred and Ruth Buch, Ephrata National Bank, Fulton Bank, Good’s disposal, Ginnie and Don Good, Historic Smithton Inn, Horst Auctioneers, Salon Art-Tiff.

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

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