KEY WEST, Iowa — Faye Hoffman always looked ahead.
She lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years, an autoimmune disease that can rob a person of muscle control.
But there was always an undertaking that would benefit from her expertise and another person in need of her love.
Faye died May 1 from complications of MS. She was 70.
“When things got tough for her, she would focus on not what difficulty she was going through,” said her husband Bob Hoffman, “but maybe some project or some event she could throw herself into.”
Faye was born on June 29, 1950, in Dubuque.
Her love for animals, especially horses, manifested early in life, intertwined with another lifelong passion — reading.
Of course, she pored over “Black Beauty.” Later, all of Zane Grey’s novels about the Old West and the works of James Herriot, the English veterinarian best known for his book “All Creatures Great and Small.”
Faye graduated from Wahlert High School in 1968 and attended the University of Iowa to study journalism. After transferring to Loras College, she completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1973.
Faye worked as an accountant and credit manager for Woodward Communications from 1971 until her 1990 retirement.
Bob was celebrating his 21st birthday at a bar when they met by chance.
Faye was not a drinker, but she accompanied a group of girlfriends on her volleyball team. Faye sat beside him while he played cards. Bob noticed her smile.
They married a year later. He was 21 and she 19. The couple raised two children, Sara and Jeremy.
At work, Faye noticed her vision blurring. A doctor diagnosed her with MS in 1978. She remained in good health for about a decade, only experiencing occasional bouts of fatigue. Faye tried experimental treatments available at the time, including spinal injections. She altered her diet.
But Faye was determined that her diagnosis would not define her life. She continued to work, raise the children and run her household. She volunteered for the United Way of Dubuque for 38 years.
“We were so busy,” Bob said. “Our lives didn’t stop.”
It was always Faye’s desire to own a horse, so she traveled to the Quad Cities and purchased Kermit, a white Arabian, in 1979. She rode the gelding along the roads surrounding Sherrill’s Mound.
Faye and Bob acquired a mare and began to breed horses. Faye was “in her element” working with them, Bob said, and the herd eventually grew to seven.
He thinks it did not come as a shock to her when she had to give up riding a few years later.
“People with MS, they know what’s ahead,” Bob said. “I’m guessing it’s constantly on their mind.”
Faye’s mobility changed in a pattern that was marked by intermittent declines and long plateaus. Her loss of muscle coordination started in her legs and slowly rose like a tide.
“I think that was a hard struggle for anybody, but I think it was harder for her just in the fact of how independent she used to be,” Jeremy said.
Bob and Faye moved to Key West, where they had constructed stables and a house. They harvested tomatoes, raspberries, rhubarb and asparagus from their bountiful gardens.
“This was her idea of heaven,” Bob said.
Faye adapted and utilized technology to continue to do the things she loved.
Their house had wide doorframes that she navigated in her wheelchair. Bob installed a workstation on the kitchen countertop, from which Faye directed him as he attempted to emulate her cooking.
She had long experimented with recipes, but kept only the best in two binders. The first was labeled from the letters A through C and the second D through Z. The reams of cookie recipes that filled the first volume accounted for the vast disparity in lettering between the two.
Faye had a gift for scanning a recipe and judging its merits.
“She was the master chef and I was the kitchen hand,” Bob said.
Faye used a laptop with voice dictation software and a phone she answered with a push of a button. She had a wand that fit into a stand with a mouthpiece, which enabled her to turn the pages of a book or magazine.
The minutiae of daily living also became a place where Faye asserted her independence.
After she lost use of her hands, she continued to brush her teeth. Bob cupped her electric toothbrush in her hand and Faye moved her head from side-to-side.
When the mares gave birth, Bob wheeled her down to the barn where she watched.
The MS left Faye in considerable pain at times, another symptom of the disease. Before bed, Bob tenderly propped pillows, towels and cushions under her arms and legs, just so.
There could be no awkward bends. Faye would have to lie in the same position for hours unless she woke him.
He implored her to do so.
“No Bob, you need your sleep,” Faye would say.
The day before she died, Faye lay at home in bed, unresponsive.
Jeremy and his wife and two children arrived for a visit, with their goldendoodle poodle, Fozzie. The dog happily jumped onto Faye’s bed, as he always did, and licked her face.
Faye’s eyebrows raised. She smiled.