Wausua’s own ‘Cookie Lady’ honored by granddaughter
Will wonders ever cease? Honestly, this Cookies by Bess journey I’m on never ceases to amaze me! Whether it’s the amazing cookie recipes I’ve been baking over the last several years or the periodic encounter I have with a former Cookies by Bess cookie book owner or long time family friend…there is always something to keep me going on this cookie baking journey!
This time it was a phone call I received from Keith Uhlig, Human Interest Reporter in Central Wisconsin. Keith writes articles that run in the Wausau Daily Herald and other state news papers like the Appleton Post Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Seems Keith is a friend of my father (Rich Hoffman) and has written a few Human Interest stories with my father’s help in the past.
This time around, it was Grandma Bess that caught Keith’s interest and he decided to write a story about Grandma Bess and…ME! ? Can you imagine my surprise when I received a call from Keith to talk about Cookies by Bess, Grandma Bess, and my blog? Well, I was very surprised and absolutely thrilled to take his call and answer his questions about all things Cookies by Bess!
After Keith and I talked and Keith and my father talked, he wrote the article. Wausau’s own ‘Cookie Lady’ honored by granddaughter ran in the Wausau Daily Herald on July 23, 2021. It was super fun to see Cookies by Bess in the headlines again! This time not only Grandma Bess’ picture in the paper, but mine too! And how great to see so many readers visit our website and send me notes after the article ran.
Thank you Keith for bringing Cookies by Bess back to life again and to you all for reading our blog, visiting our website, baking our cookies, and sending me your notes!
Below is the article you will find in the newspaper, along with some additional images to help tell the story.
I hope you enjoy!
Wausau’s own ‘Cookie Lady’ honored by granddaughter
Website pays homage to Bess Hoffman
Keith Uhlig, Wausau Daily Herald
Friday, July 23, 2021
The year was 1960, and the mother of four from Wausau was struggling with empty-nest syndrome.
Bess Hoffman was a quintessential stay-at-home mom throughout the 1940s and 1950s. And when her youngest child left for college, she “didn’t feel good about anything.” Bess later said in a newspaper interview. “I had all sorts of aches and pains. Finally I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘Bess, go home and bake!” And I learned to accept the fact that I had come to another stage in my life.”
Bess told that story to Polly Zimmerman of the Oshkosh Northwestern, and Zimmerman’s excellent story ran in the newspaper’s Food section on Dec. 8, 1980. It described how Bess took her doctor’s advice, and went home and baked cookies. And baked and baked and baked.
Friends took notice and urges Bess to write a cookie recipe book, and the first of “Cookies by Bess” was published in 1960.
Eventually that book would be republished in 1980 by her son and daughter-in-law, Rich and Toby Hoffman, who also hired a public relations expert to help bolster sales. With that catalyst, Bess went viral years before the internet. Know as the “Cookie Lady,” she could be found in the newspapers across the state and beyond, and on television too.
When you read the stories and talk to family members who grew up with Bess, it’s easy to see why. She was jovial, funny and everyone’s quintessential Wisconsin grandma when she showed up for interviews. And she always brought a bag of cookies with her.
“What Bess Hoffman never expected has happened,” Zimmerman wrote in 1980. “Her book has now ‘gone national.’…She has appeared on talk shows, given newspaper interviews, demonstrated on television and has been a guest instructor at Fox Valley Technical Institute.”
All told, Bess sold about 80,000 copies of her books, 40,000 each of the 1960 and 1980 versions, said Rich, who now lives in Santa Rosa, California. Bess and her husband Abe, a credit manager at Winkelman’s Department Store in Wausau, had four children, two daughters, June and Susan, and two sons, Rich and his twin brother, Ron.
Bess was 79 years old in 1986 when she died of cancer in Los Angeles, where she and Abe moved after he retired. But the 3.0 version of “Cookies by Bess” shepherded by a third-generation Hoffman continues to spread her joy of cookie-ing. About four years ago, during a turning point in her own life, Bess’ granddaughter Janet Hoffman of Denver started a “Cookies by Bess’ food blog…
…Janet thought that the blog could lead to a thriving business, maybe selling batches of cookies once made by Bess, maybe republishing the book and selling copies. But when Janet got a job as a human resources executive, the business side of the bog was sidelined. However, Janet couldn’t give up altogether.
“I decided to bake every weekend, to go through the cookie book and make all the recipes.” Janet said, “I think I have about 40 recipes left to do…I’m doing this as a hoddy; I’m doing this as a passion.”
Janet makes the recipes, posts them on the website, takes photos of the cookies and writes a short essay with each batch. The blog is a creative outlet, Janet said, and it’s billed as being “about all things cookies, family and friendship.”
Bess would have approved. “You shouldn’t feel that baking is a job,” she told the Wausau Daily Herald in 1980. “It should be a joy.”
Bess “was quite the woman,” Rich said. “Her job was to be the president and CEO of our house. She made three meals a day, every day. And we sat down to dinner every single night.”
And there were always cookies on hand, Rich said. He can’t name his favorite. “Oh, lemon drips (Lemon Bars), cinnamon fingers (Cinnamon Logs), there’s not one cookies I don’t like. Oh, peanut butter cookies!” It was very hard to have one special one,” Rich said, “Ronnie and I would come home from school every day and we’d have a pint of milk and cookies.”
Those memories are what drove Rich and Toby to re-introduce “Cookies by Bess” in 1980.
“We didn’t really make any money on the books, as much as we made my mother’s day. She became a personality,” Rich said. “Even in Los Angeles, someone would stop her on the street and say, “Hey aren’t you the Cookie Lady?”
Janet’s “Cookies by Bess” website get steady interest, around 1,000 visits from around the world each week. That doubles in the holiday season, when it’s no unusual for about 100 people ad day visit the website, she said.
Like her grandmother, Janet brings cookies just about wherever she goes: to work, to dinner parties, to events.
“It just puts a smile on everybody’s face,” Janet said, “Cookies are a part of everybody’s life. They are about family and memories and friendship and comfort and all that.”
Her father, Rich, agrees. “Cookies are the universal language,” he said. “I don’t care where you go, people love cookies.”