Thanks for Asking | Aug. 4, 2011

our local jack-of-all trades tells you how it is

Frank Smoot

A friend of mine at work (a big sports fan) was telling me about Hobbsy’s Bar in Hallie. In the 1950s or 60s two Hobbs brothers (related to the family that owns the bar) were outstanding football players first at Regis and then at the UW as Badgers. Can you tell me more about the brothers? Are they somehow connected to the Hobbs of Hobbs Ice arena in Eau Claire?

Thanks for asking! I’ll do my best, but my knowledge about the Hobbs boys is hit-n-miss. William G. Hobbs (Bill or Billy) and his brother John Hobbs (sometimes given as Jon, but I’m sticking with John) grew up on Platt Street on Eau Claire’s west side. Their dad John worked at the paper mill. I don’t know if their mom Lenore worked outside the home or not. Bill graduated from Regis in 1955; I’m thinking John graduated a year earlier in 54.

I don’t doubt John was a big high school star, but I can’t give you details. I do know that William won nine letters in four sports at Regis and as a senior was named second-team All-State in football. As a UW Badger, he played left halfback and lettered in 57, 58, and 59. That said, I think you’d have to call John (fullback and kicker) the bigger college star. John lettered in 56, 57, and 58. That year (58) he was the Badgers’ team co-captain, rushing leader, and MVP. He was named a First-Team Academic All-American, and played in the East-West Shrine All-Star Game. On the other hand, his brother William was the one who got to play in a Rose Bowl (one of Wisconsin’s seven appearances): 1959: he took seven carries for 32 yards.

I know almost nothing about their lives after college. I know William gained the rank of First Lieutenant in the Army (Vietnam era). I know he died young, only 58.

On your last question: if the Hobbs boys are any relation to the Hobbs Ice Arena, it must be very distant. As I said, their dad was John. His dad Robert was born in England and came here as a lad with his parents (John and Georgiana). This eldest John became a farmer south of town.

The Hobbs Foundation funded Hobbs Ice Arena. The foundation deserves a longer story, but here’s the short version: Endowed from the estates of Roswell and Jessie Hobbs, Eau Claire brother and sister, who were president and vice-president of Hobbs Supply, wholesale dealers of plumbing, heating, hardware, and electrical supplies.

Hobbs Supply came into the family when Roswell and Jessie’s dad William H. Hobbs bought out D.E. Brown’s share of Nicholas and Brown Co. in 1885. Hobbs had moved here that year from Winona (but strangely, had actually been married in Eau Claire the year before, even though neither he nor his bride Mary Alice Holzer lived here at the time). William had full ownership by 1901, and the business passed to his kids when he died in 1936. At its peak, Hobbs had 27 buildings with a total floor space of something like seven acres. It also spun off prominent locals Phoenix Manufacturing and Bartingale Mechanical.

Neither Roswell nor Jessie ever married or had children, so all of us got the Ice Arena, the Hobbs Altoona Sports Center, and dozens of other area improvements. Some $3.5 million altogether over the life of the foundation. Anyway, long story short: one Hobbs family came from jolly old England, the other from the Minnesota Territory. Simply both named Hobbs.

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it (mail@volumeone.org) and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.

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