Cliff Hoofman ’68 would leave his job at a downtown Conway retail store each evening and barrel through the Arkansas State Teachers College (ASTC) campus, now the University of Central Arkansas, hoping to catch the cafeteria before it closed. The retail store and cafeteria both closed at 6 p.m.
“Like a lot of students, if I didn’t get to eat there, I didn’t have money to eat anywhere else,” Hoofman said.
On one occasion, he ran into “Ms. Mary,” the woman whom students had labeled “the lady who ran the cafeteria.”
Ms. Mary assumed that Hoofman was an athlete who had waited until the last minute to come to the cafeteria. Ms. Mary proceeded to give Hoofman a stern “talking-to,” but she stopped her scolding long enough to hear Hoofman explain that his late arrival was due to him working downtown to help pay tuition.
From then on, Ms. Mary made sure Hoofman did not miss dinner.
“For two years, I pulled up out there and parked my car, and I would go up on the porch and Ms. Mary…,” Hoofman said then took a deep breath and paused before continuing. “She’d make me a sack lunch with a carton of milk and whatever there was that night and put it on the front porch.”
Each evening as Hoofman ate from that sack lunch, his affinity for ASTC solidified and continued to grow.
Hoofman, now Judge Cliff Hoofman, member of the Arkansas Court of Appeals, has spent the better part of his adult life as a consistent supporter of the University.
After graduating with a double major in mathematics and history, Hoofman later earned a Juris Doctor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
He worked for several years before making a run for the Arkansas House of Representatives where he served eight years. Afterwards, he served 20 years in the Arkansas Senate.
From the very beginning of his legislative tenure, his beloved alma mater stayed at the center of his work.
“In 1975, my first year in that first week in the legislature, we had the bill that gave university status to [State College of Arkansas],” Hoofman said.
Voting on the bill and seeing it pass was a turn of fate for Hoofman, who had worked with President Silas Snow to gain university status years earlier. “When I was student body president, Dr. Snow and I went around in central Arkansas to the legislators seeking support for university status. We did not succeed in 1968,” he explained.
Following President Snow, Hoofman was acquainted with President Jefferson Farris, sixth president, and every president thereafter through his legislative work or other close connections.
Both he and President Winfred Thompson, seventh president, were White County natives, so they were long-time acquaintances.
President Lu Hardin, eighth president, and Hoofman served together in the Arkansas General Assembly, but Hoofman had a stronger tie to the Hardin family.
“Were it not for Lu Hardin’s father, I wouldn’t even have finished high school,” he said, adding that it was two Searcy High School teachers who encouraged Hoofman to go back to high school after dropping out as a junior.
“Mr. Hardin, Lu’s father, and Mr. Morgan came to that gas station where I’d started working,” Hoofman said, reaching over and touching his right shoulder with his left hand. “I can still feel Mr. Hardin’s hand on my shoulder telling me I needed to go back to school.”
President Allen Meadors, the ninth president, was a member of the student council while Hoofman was student body president. UCA’s current president, Tom Courtway, and Hoofman served together in the legislature.
“I’ve had a continual rapport with this University,” Hoofman said.
He previously conducted a criminal justice program at the American Legion Boys State, which is held on the University campus. Hoofman is a financial supporter of the institution through the UCA Fund, Purple Circle and other efforts. He also hopes to teach courses at the University after his appointment to the Court of Appeals ends.
Hoofman was appointed in 2007 to a 10-year term on the Arkansas State Highway Commission. In 2011, he was appointed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Hoofman was appointed to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2013 before being reappointed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals in 2015.
Throughout Hoofman’s litany of community and professional accomplishments, he has continued to support UCA, which was recognized when he was awarded a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award.
“I have known Judge Cliff Hoofman in many professional and personal capacities for many years, and I was thrilled when he was named a Distinguished Alumni of the University of Central Arkansas,” said President Courtway. “He has always served the citizens of the state of Arkansas proudly and been dedicated to this University.”
While bowing his head, Hoofman said, “I hold the school up so high and for the school to honor me was so humbling. I know this institution had more impact on all of the successes that I’ve had in life, more impact than any other thing or institution or occurrence than anything else. I just feel compelled to support this school.”