Obituary: Gene Hoefel, professor emeritus of art, 86

Gene Hoefel, professor emeritus at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, died peacefully in his sleep at the Anthology of Clayton View assisted living facility on Dec. 28, 2020. He was 86.

Hoefel (Photo courtesy of the family)

Born and raised in St. Louis, Hoefel attended Kirkwood High School and studied art at Washington University, where he also served as a varsity baseball pitcher. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1956, Hoefel spent 15 years in Chicago, working in the advertising industry — including stints with leading firms Leo Burnett and DDB-Needham — and creating the Nestea Plunge, among other award-winning national campaigns.

Hoefel returned to St. Louis in 1974, joining the university as an assistant professor of graphic arts communication. He co-taught the long-running course “Snap Up” with Bob Gulovsen, adjunct professor at Olin Business School, which paired senior design students and MBA students with real-world clients.

“Gene was a kind and generous man, as well as the most focused and intense collaborator I have ever worked with,” said Jeff Pike, professor of art and Hoefel’s longtime neighbor in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.

Hoefel (right) reviews tapes and slides with students Carolyn Lee and Tim Raglan in 1976. (Photo: Richard N. Levine/Washington University Record)

Pike recalled, shortly after his own arrival at WashU, sitting in on one of Hoefel’s advertising critiques. “I had done some advertising work and considered myself to be pretty good at it. However, I had no idea what it meant to work with a real pro. Student after student, Gene’s rapid-fire concept development never slowed, was never repetitive, and did not stop. I was in awe. I was humbled.”

Hoefel also served as faculty adviser to Create Five, a senior design studio whose clients included the American Red Cross and the National Museum of Transport, among others. Major Create Five projects ranged from public service television spots celebrating the 1976 U.S. bicentennial to documentary-style spots about different St. Louis neighborhoods — all of which aired on local television.

An avid traveler, Cardinals fan and mixed-media religious artist, Hoefel could often be found at the university’s Athletic Complex, with fellow art professors Bill Kohn and Peter Marcus, or volunteering and attending services at Grace Methodist Church on Skinker Boulevard. He was named professor emeritus in 1998. The Gene Hoefel Scholarship, awarded annually to a Sam Fox School art student, is sponsored in his honor.

Hoefel is survived by his wife, Dolores; sons Kurt and Karl; daughter, Ketti, a 1993 alumna; and eight grandchildren, who affectionately knew him as “Odad.”

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