Two former military couples connect after 33 years separation
Thirty-seven years ago in 1981, newlyweds Jeff and Margie Hoff and Tony and Reva Velazquezamaro became neighbors while stationed at Albrook Field, a former U.S. Air Force facility in Panama.
The last time the two couples and their children saw each other was before the Hoffs left Panama in early 1985. The Velazquezamaros remained there until 1987 when Tony was assigned to Minot Air Force Base.
But last month the two couples reconnected and now are making plans for a reunion. The Hoffs live in Minneapolis and the Velazquezamaros live in Minot.
Jeff Hoff, who contacted the Minot Daily News recently about their reconnection, related a story about the two families when they were living in Panama.
Already with a toddler, the Hoffs were expecting another child. While on duty Jeff received a call that Margie was going into labor. While en route home, the oil light on his car came on. Upon his arrival home and without question, next-door neighbor Reva watched over the couple’s toddler while her Tony revved up his station wagon (lovingly referred to as “the boat”) and drove the Hoffs to Gorgas Army Hospital where Margie gave birth.
“For a family of four on a stringent military budget, there wasn’t much left for unexpected expenses; however, the assistance didn’t stop there,” Jeff wrote in an email. He said Tony also helped with the maintenance on the Hoffs’ car.
After 22 1/2 years in the Air Force Tony retired from the Air Force in 1991 while at Minot AFB and then was employed at the Base Exchange until retiring in 1995. He remembers Jeff’s story and that his (Tony’s) car was a baby blue Chrysler station wagon.
As a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force security police at the time, Tony had a positive influence on Jeff’s own security police career, which ultimately led to his civilian police career, Jeff said.
Since separating from the military, Jeff has worked for the Minneapolis Police Department, where he has been highly decorated for his service – four awards of Merit, Medal of Valor, Medal of Commendation, twice Precinct Officer of the Year and Department Officer of the Year.
But Jeff always wanted to locate Tony, and Tony wanted to locate Jeff.
After separating from the military and settling into civilian life, Jeff said, he tried to track down Tony and Reva but that was during an era before social media, unrest in the Canal Zone and ousting of Manuel Noriega. “It didn’t happen,” he said.
“I tried to find him. We lived together next door,” said Tony. “I always looked but never could find him.”
Several years passed as the Hoffs went on with their lives and Tony and Reva with theirs.
But Tony and Reva were always on our hearts, Jeff said. “You just can’t forget those selfless acts of kindness. To us, they were angels in disguise.”
With time on his hands over the President’s Day holiday weekend in February, Jeff was motivated to start searching again. Through the internet and social media, he said, he was able to track down Tony and Reva through their daughter (a Minot resident and one of the Velazquezamaros’ three children), who was about 12 years old when they were in Panama. He found her Facebook page and subsequently, his search was successful in finding Tony and Reva in Minot.
“Can you believe it? They have essentially been living right next to us all these years – seven hours and 23 minutes away. There is a lot of making up to do. Time permitting, we intend a reunion in the near future,” Jeff said.
Tony said he couldn’t believe it when his daughter called to tell him Jeff was trying to reach him. “It really was a blessing,” Tony said. He said they’re now making plans to hopefully get together around the first part of April.
“In my opinion and without question, Tony is a true blue American who served his country in more ways then one, and he and Reva are a testament of how military families are there for each other,” Jeff said.
Jeff said he wanted to tell the story about their family and Tony and Reva Velazquezamaro because he feels it is “more of a tribute to them and military families.”
Tony said they hope their story of reconnecting will help and encourage others to reach out to people they served with in the military.
“It’s going to be a yearly reunion,” said Tony of their reunion plans. He said he and Jeff also are hoping to find more people who were their neighbors when they lived in Panama.