He went to Margo’s house with a care package given to him by a chaplain to give to a needy family. Through his respectful polite manner and his ability to speak German, he immediately won her family over. “Mother and Grandmother thought he was the ‘bee’s knees!” Margo said, “Why he’s practically German,” they said. Then her mother & grandmother convinced Margo to give him a chance. He finally won the reluctant girl over and proposed. Since there was nothing in the way of wedding dresses let alone material to make one, Bob wrote to his mother about the need. Her future mother-in-law sent a wedding dress, veil, shoes, “the works” – even a nightgown for the honeymoon. They were married in November of 1948.
When Bob received his discharge papers, he brought his bride to America to begin their life together. He found work as a MetLife Insurance sales representative. He also was a Red Cross volunteer along with Margo for more than 25 years. He served military families as a member. Bob was involved with the VFW and he was a charter member of the EAA. He and his family were Cross Lutheran Church members.
They had many challenges but they dealt with them head-on. As Margo would always say, “There were many struggles, but I’ve had many miracles in my life too”.
The greatest tragedy of all struck a few years after the arrival of their two children. In 1953 while traveling in their car in Union Grove, the family was involved in a horrific accident. Everyone except the baby suffered injuries. Bob suffered a severe spinal injury causing paralysis from the neck down. He spent two long years in the VA hospital before coming home. Margo was at his side every step of the way as his devoted nurse.
Although he received a modest insurance settlement and a small monthly Social Security check, it was not enough to raise a family. He was not about to allow his family to go on welfare. Local jeweler, Bob Miller, approached him with the offer of a new job as justice of the peace. Bob was known for his fairness and integrity in all things. They held court in their home once a week for years. Eventually, the state eliminated the position. However, Bob was thinking ahead.
In 1960 the couple invested their meager savings with a flag business advertisement only to find out that it was a fraud and they lost their money. Still, they did not give up. He wrote to four of the largest flag companies explaining his situation. All companies offered him an open line of credit to start his business.
In the early years, Bob used an early version of a speakerphone to call prospects. Bob would call everyone in the phone book. The 50 Star flag was sold easily as no one had it and everyone wanted it. His children and Margo delivered flags & collected payment. Margo kept the books and repaired flags when needed. By 1964 Bob had sold a flag & pole set to practically everyone in Burlington. The Burlington VFW was instrumental in increasing flag sales by helping him contact the various veteran’s organizations. Bob started making all kinds of flags including sport, city, state, college, religious, yachting, armed forces and began designing custom flags.
Selling flags was not just a business for the Hofers, but an extension of love the family had for the US and the American flag. Bob’s mother was a charter member of the Burlington VFW Auxiliary. His brother Tom was shot down at Germany and was a prisoner of war during WWII.
When a group of wives and relatives of Vietnam prisoners of war and those missing in action designed the current POW/MIA flag, Bob started selling those to help promote their plight. He did so to get the government behind them to gain more information from the Vietnamese government about their loved ones. The flag’s black background symbolizes mourning, white lettering stands for hope, the lowered head represents American soldiers in prison. The watchtower with a guard is a reminder of his imprisonment, and modified Laurel branch design is symbolic of Valor.
The most satisfactory thing that he did, though, was helping to design the flag that flies at the small schoolhouse in Waubeka, WI marking the spot where the holiday of Flag Day originated. “It makes me feel really good to know that I helped to design the flag for the original Flag Day,” he said.
Bob was also instrumental in getting the name of our state Vermont added to the state flag. At his request, state representative Cloyd Porter introduced the bill in the State Assembly to add the name “Wisconsin” to Vermont’s flag to distinguish it from other similarly designed state flags. Both Margo and Bob were present at the hearing of the bill introduced by State Representative Cloyd Porter to make this change in 1970.
Yet another struggle occurred when doctors thought Margo had cancer. Their pastor, Pastor Moench, announced in church that she needed blood donors. “A darling little boy came to our door and said he was too young to give blood but he wanted to help, so we gave him odd jobs,” Margo said. That little boy fell madly in love with Bob and Margo and wanted to stay with them since his family was large and struggling. The Hofer’s agreed because the feeling was mutual. Ken became a part of the Hofer family through adoption.
Then years later on April 8, 1990, Bob the “Flag Man” passed away from complications of his paralysis. A Flagpole erected in his honor stands on the point of the Fox River.
Margo continued with the business. She decided the name should remain the same because as she says “It was his idea after all.” Both sons helped with the business installing flagpoles. Customer relations remained the most important facet of the business. When a customer from Bristol expressed his desire to have a US flag with fringe for the antenna of his car, she had them specially made for him. People from far away as Chicago came to pick up their flag and to chat a while with Margo who always had time to talk & listen.
During Desert Storm, they sold over 100 of the specially designed flags with a big yellow ribbon & bow. After 9/11 people came in droves to buy a flag from Margo keeping her very busy.
This is where I come in, so I should introduce myself. My name is Laura Uhen. My mother and Margo were both war brides and came to the US at approximately the same time. They became acquainted after giving birth to their second children. They enjoyed a great friendship until my mother passed away. This is where my relationship with Margo really began to develop. Margo became my surrogate mother and last tie to my German heritage. We enjoyed doing things such as going to plays and concerts and eating out with a couple of her long-time friends. Her wisdom, compassion and fun-loving nature helped me so much and we became very close.
Margo’s health eventually began to fade. On one particularly difficult day in the hospital, she wondered if I would watch over her beloved son Ken after she was gone. I felt honored that she would think that highly of me. So, of course, I agreed and told her not to worry. A short time later she quietly succumbed to her many health issues in her home on December 8, 2005.
After her passing, I handled her estate and managed the flag business for Ken. Within three months, Ken lost his beloved mother, his dog, Truffles, and his brother to cancer. By then I had fallen in love with the business. I began to understand why she kept it going these many years. Her clientele was so delightful and encouraging. Her supplier with whom she had such a long-standing relationship was so willing to help me as I fumbled through the learning process.
As time went by, the necessity to make some difficult decisions arose. Ken decided it would be best for him to move closer to his sister and brother-in-law in Appleton. The decision concerning the fate of Bob’s Banners loomed ahead of us. Ken did not want to continue with the business. I hated to see such a long-standing Burlington business fade away. After much consideration, we came to a decision. The family graciously allowed me to continue with the business. The only request was that I choose a new name. I really had a hard time coming up with a satisfactory replacement. However, through prayer one day God flashed Liberty to mind. There you have it. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place.
It is my sincere desire to go ‘Forward’ in this matter, hoping that Margo & Bob would be pleased with the decision that we made. It is truly an honor for me to be able to carry on the tradition of supplying this community’s flag needs.