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Family of Lincoln native who drowned: He 'could not stand by' as swimmer struggled

Family of Lincoln native who drowned: He 'could not stand by' as swimmer struggled

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A Lincoln native drowned while trying to save a struggling swimmer in Lake Superior off Minnesota's North Shore earlier this week.

Wayne Louis Hoffman, 66, was one of two men who died in the incident Tuesday near Tofte, about 80 miles northeast of Duluth, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Around 3 p.m. that day, Evan Alexander Johnson, 40, of Wisconsin, got out of an on-shore hot tub near Bluefin Bay Resort and went for a swim, according to the local sheriff's office and U.S. Coast Guard.

Hoffman and his wife, Jan, had left their home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, to vacation on the North Shore for Christmas and were out walking when Hoffman saw Johnson in distress, battling waves estimated at 4 to 6 feet, said Hoffman's sister-in-law, Pam Hoffman of Lincoln.

"His wife asked him not to go down, but Wayne went ahead and helped anyway," Pam Hoffman said Friday. "He was the type of guy that could not stand by and watch somebody struggling for their life."

Hoffman was trying to pull Johnson out of the 37-degree water when he was swept away by a large wave. Johnson was pulled from the water a half-hour later and pronounced dead.

Icy conditions and fog complicated rescue efforts for Hoffman, but search crews found his body 400 yards from shore and pulled him from the lake just after 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Pam Hoffman and her husband, Bruce, will remember Wayne, a mid-1960s graduate of Lincoln High School, as a bright man, caring person and a true gentleman who loved dogs, his family and traveling with his wife.

"I couldn’t have asked for a better brother-in-law," she said.

Bruce, 63, and Wayne Hoffman were blessed to have each other, Pam Hoffman said.

"They gave each other a really hard time, drank a lot of beer together and watched a lot of sports,” she said.

But the two didn't see each other that often. Wayne worked as a physics engineer at an insulating glass plant in the southwestern Wisconsin town, and Bruce lives in Lincoln and works at Giebelhaus-Hoffman Plumbing, which he owns.

So they decided 20 years ago they'd meet every year in the middle -- Newton, Iowa -- for a weekend of food, beer, golf and just being brothers.

"They'd get in as much golf as light would allow every day,” Pam Hoffman said.

The Hoffman brothers, competitive on the links, would even continue their golf rivalry at the hotel, which had an indoor putting green, she said.

"I'm very glad that we took the time to spend 20 years doing that," Bruce Hoffman said.

"He'll be missed."

Services are planned in Wisconsin for Jan. 2, and a celebration of life in Lincoln is pending.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.


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Local government reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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