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Decades of dedication to document Eau Claire history

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 5:16 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 8:19 AM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Do you remember what it looked like driving in downtown Eau Claire nearly 30 years ago? Or maybe what Putnam park looked like back in the 1980′s? Thanks to one Eau Claire man, we don’t have to wonder anymore, he has it all on video.

Eau Claire native, Roy Hoff Sr. was using a GoPro in his car to take video long before GoPro’s existed. Now, community members are helping him preserve the hundreds of hours of history he has documented in those videos over the past 40 years.

Roy has a storage shed is full of more than 2,000 VHS tapes and 8 millimeters. “I have videos of Putnam Park back in the 80s, downtown in ’87, a lot of those buildings are gone,” Roy Hoff Sr. said. He would drive around and capture what the town looked like at that moment in time. “I ran a power generator in the trunk and ran a home VCR in the front seat and ran a camera with cables,” Hoff added.

His decades of dedication started in 1983 after he temporarily lost his eyesight. “My sight came back and I realized I had to save my current situation because I might never see it again and I couldn’t describe it to my children so I started recording everything around me,” Hoff said. He documented his first driving video that same year and continues to record today. “It’s really easy today, I don’t have to carry around 67 pounds to get a driving video,” Hoff said.

Hundreds of hours of footage have to be converted to digital copies. “As a teacher, I always saw that as my function to transmit culture to the next generation,” said George Utphall, a friend of Roy’s. Utphall is a retired memorial high school teacher and graduated from memorial 50 years ago with classmate Roy. “It’s amazing just in our lifetimes how much it has changed,” Utphall added.

He helped organize a fundraiser for Roy to preserve everything he has documented. “A fair share of it is stuff that doesn’t exist any place else,” Utphall said. In the videos, you can watch Eau Claire grow through the eyes of Roy behind the wheel. “I think they should be more involved with history because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Hoff said.

To help preserve his collection, classmates and strangers have helped Roy raise nearly $2,000 through a Go Fund Me page. Roy plans to either donate some of his collection to the Chippewa Valley Museum or to UW-Eau Claire to keep the history alive.

As he converts video to digital, he is posting on the Facebook page “Our Old Town Eau Claire”.

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