TOPEKA — Gary Max Hoffsommer, 83, Topeka, went to be with our Lord and Savior Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
He was born Feb. 28, 1938, in Topeka, to Paul K. and Irene V. (Roller) Hoffsommer. He attended Benham Elementary School and Highland Park High School. He then attended Washburn University and UCLA, earning degrees in physics, astronomy and mathematics.
Gary worked in many exciting fields, including serving as WIBW 580 AM Radio’s master control operator (age 15), a flying research physicist for the Navy, and a senior project engineer for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Retirement was never Gary’s plan. He continued as an instructor for Washburn Institute of Technology, Allen Community College, online technology instructor and the sole proctor/examiner for ETA International (Electronics Technician Association) in the State of Kansas. Gary was also an award-winning substitute teacher for several area school districts.
He was a multifaceted maverick in communication and technology. As a teenager, he obtained his ham radio license and was initially known as W0QJC and eventually W0TI. In later years, he designed and manufactured telemetry systems for rural water districts across the nation, distributed two-way radio systems, harnessed wind electricity, and drove a series of early model electric vehicles. His nightly skyline pictures were a common occurrence on KSNT and KTKA TV. As a close family friend always said, “If anyone had questions, Gary was the one to answer them. Before Google, there was Gary.” Gary, otherwise affectionately known to numerous school-aged students as “Gadget Gary,” inspired many students with his entertaining and thought-provoking science videos and live appearances. In years past, Gary was a volunteer bicycle officer for the City of Overbrook.
Gary, a self-taught professional bass player, was a member of the bands Southern Sunrise and Del and the Downbeats. Additionally, he played in Christian, country and polka bands, including at Shakey’s Pizza. Gary volunteered his time, serving as bass player in high school musical pit orchestras, stage and pep bands. He also made sure his daughters had private music lessons.
He was a successful author of two books: “Reflections of a One Room Schoolhouse: My Life in the 1940s” and the sequel, “Reflections on Communication and Entertainment: My Life in the 1950s.” Both books contain delightful, descriptive narratives of his many Topeka adventures as a child and into his late teens. Gary’s voice and storytelling expertise brought his experiences to life.
Gary married the love of his life, Karen, in 1982, in Topeka. They built a beautiful home in the country near Overbrook, where family and friends were always welcome. Four-legged friends were also near to Gary’s heart, as many times he had one or more of his dogs with him in the car when out taking pictures or on his daily two-mile walk. During Gary’s battle with cancer, Karen was his rock and never wavered in her devotion to him. She faithfully stayed by his side and was his constant source of positivity.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother, Dean P. Hoffsommer, and his son-in-law, Fred H. Hollenbeck.
Gary is survived by his beloved wife, Karen, of 39 years; his daughters, Michelle Hollenbeck, Colorado Springs, Colo., Debra Young (Shane), Overbrook, and Lori Means (Mike), Berryton; his stepchildren, Brenda Flanagan (Gary), Topeka, Brad Berckefeldt, Grove, Okla., Heather Thomas, Bartlesville, Okla., and Erick Berckefeldt (Heather), Topeka; 23 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life service will be 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 14, at Grace Community Church, Overbrook, where Gary and Karen attended, and he volunteered his time to design and install their sound system when the church underwent its first expansion. Visitation will be 9:30 a.m., prior to the start of the service.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Gary M. Hoffsommer Endowment Fund at Washburn University, 1729 S.W. MacVicar, Topeka, KS 66604 (wualumni.org). The fund was established by the family to benefit the Physics and Astronomy Department.
Dove Cremations and Funerals, Southwest Chapel is assisting the family.
Condolences may be left at DoveTopeka.com.