Gerda Hokema, The Woman Behind One of Redding’s Oldest Family-Owned Businesses

Hermann and Gerda Hokema with their sons (left to right), Hardy, Michael and Frank.

If you stop by Hokema’s Vacuum and Sewing store you might just catch a glimpse of a passing whirlwind. Like the more powerful winds, she has a name: Gerda. You might see her on hands and knees gingerly unclogging a vacuum hose; or with spatula in hand, cheerfully serving cookies to budding sewing students. The cookies are baked at break of day. There is no shortage of work ethic or good will with this lady.

Gerda has been a woman of industry throughout her life, including the 48 years Hokema’s store has been open. In 1964, after a break with a business partner, Gerda and her husband Hermann started their own appliance repair shop. Yuba Street was the location. Empty shelves and a workbench with tools was the setting. Gerda served in every facet of the business, including bookkeeping. Side by side they labored with purpose of heart. Hard work characterized the atmosphere. Courage abounded. The American Dream sprang to life. Hokema’s has since expanded to sales of appliance parts, vacuums and sewing machines. The metal sounds of daily repair work still remain.

During this busy time of building a business, three baby boys arrived, one after another. A play area was nestled between the tools and the vacuum parts. Sounds of tiny trucks and Tinker Toys filled the air, lending a lively melody to the daily agenda. While Gerda juggled bottles and toys, she also searched for appliance parts, recommended vacuum purchases, and balanced the books. Her industrious spirit spoke of her roots and her homeland, Germany.

Nordhorn, Germany-Yesteryear.

Nordhorn, with its surrounding farmlands, where the Vechte River flows was the lovely setting for Gerda’s home. Johann, Bernd and Franz Dieter were her brothers; Irmgard and Meta her sisters. Mama and Papa gave each their chores. There was a woodpile to move and potatoes to pick. Free time meant entertaining themselves with their own version of charades and trading pictures acquired in town. Playing with older brothers encouraged the tomboy in Gerda. One of her adventures was to jump from the upper loft of the neighbor’s barn onto a pile of hay below; a secret wisely kept from the unsuspecting neighbor. Study also proved to be a right component for the Deters’ childhood.

The Hokema family of yesteryear: Hermann and Gerda Hokema and their sons (from left to right) Frank, Michael and Hardy.

At 15 years old, Gerda worked in a grocery store where many items were sold in bulk. Flour, sugar, sauerkraut and herring were carefully weighed for each customer. Always ready for the next task, she also helped her father, a building contractor, with his business, which included assessing the correct cost for each square foot bid, bookkeeping and payroll. It was customary in Germany to attend trade school, as well as school. With zeal, Gerda chose retail as her field of interest. After three years of study and apprenticeship she was awarded a certificate for Management in Retail Business.

When recreation beckoned, Gerda journeyed with her friends by bicycle and car to the breath-taking tulip fields in Keukenhof. Holland was not far from home and the fields were ablaze with beauty.

Busy building her life in her beloved Germany, Gerda felt an attraction to another country across the sea. Care packages from America began to arrive at her church. The high heels and bright colored clothing within the boxes ignited a call to adventure in her heart. Saying goodbye to her family and her homeland, she bravely set out on an ocean voyage that would take her to a new occupation- nanny to five children in the state of Michigan. As the ship approached New York Harbor, Lady Liberty stood tall and welcoming. Destination: America. Destination: new life.

The Hokema Family Tradition Continues

Like a hand-crafted German clock signals time, so Mrs. Hokema pauses at noon for a half sandwich and cup of tea. The bread is closest to her beloved German bread back home and the tea is boiling hot. After lunch, it’s time again to organize, clean or find that all-important appliance part. Today she works side by side with her three sons who each have their own work to do. There are appliance parts to order and customers to help. If you visit Hokema’s store, now located on Bechelli Lane, listen carefully for you might hear the sound of a family at work –“Mom, line one. Mom, line one.” Perhaps the call is a person in need of a refrigerator part, or maybe it’s Mr. Hokema asking to speak with his sweetheart.

A young Hermann Hokema.

Hermann Hokema, after dozens of years of faithful work, has laid down his tools and retired. Hermann and Gerda Hokema are Oma and Opa to seven grandchildren, the oldest being 22.

Meanwhile, Gerda Hokema is keeping up the family tradition of working side by side with the ones she loves.

Karen Cranfill enjoyed working for the Hokema family and getting to know them for 10 years. She sewed whimsical quilts, taught classes and partook of Mrs. Hokema’s splendid baked treats. Today she enjoys making up lyrics for songs, writing a joyful children’s book, and spending fun time with her six children and nine (soon 10) grandchildren. In April she will be going on a Missions Trip to Paris, France, to let the Parisians know they are loved from above.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    Wonderful history story of a fine family, and even a caring business in Redding. Bought my sewing machine there, and stop in frequently for other items.

  2. Avatar Canda says:

    Hi Karen,

    You did a beautiful job of honoring the Hokema family. I love that store for so many reasons. I've taken sewing classes from Christie, embroidery machine/computer classes from Hardy, my vacuum and three sewing machines get regular check-ups, and Jodi is always there to help me with sewing challenges. I miss seeing you there, and wish you all the best in your new venture.

  3. I remember many years ago when I'd bought an old upright mixer with a frayed cord at a yard sale, and I brought it in to Mr. Hokema to install a new cord.

    When I went to pick it up Mr. Hokema said it was probably a good thing I didn't try to plug it in or I would have gotten quite a shock. He recommended I ditch the mixer and keep the cool old bowl, which is what I did.

    Family-owned and operated businesses are increasingly rare, so I really appreciate places like Hokema's for their solid community connections and customer service. (Full disclosure: Hokema's is an advertiser on anewscafe.com.)

    Thank you, Karen, for sharing this story with us.

  4. As a long-time customer of Hokema's, I enjoyed learning about their history…good story!

  5. Avatar KarenC says:

    We've shopped at Hokema's for 48 years, always buying our vacuum cleaners there. They have repaired all our units, and taken good care of us. They are the true American family…folks who arrived from another country, with a good work ethic, honesty and perseverance. They always gave us great service and courtesy. Thanks for the story.

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    For several years I rented a home from this fine family, they where not only a awesome business orientated family, they are a a true asset to Shasta County.

  7. Avatar pmarshall says:

    I have probably "shopped" at Hokema's for all of that 48 years. They are a great family and a tradition in Redding.

  8. Avatar Jim Thompson says:

    About 15 years ago while living in Redding, the fan in the freezer section of my ancient refrigerator burnt out. I was directed by a neighbor to go to Hokema's on Bechelli Lane. When I approached the counter I met with Gerda and as I lifted the fan assembly up and barely got the words out of my mouth what I wanted or what make/model the fridge was she said "one moment" and shortly appeared with the EXACT replacement without even looking it up in a book. This was repeated when I needed a belt and tensioning wheel for a dryer later in the year. I was impressed as I usually do this with various Porsche/Volkswagen parts in my line of work. Truly remarkable. I always referred people to Hokema's until I moved to Southern California where I am at today.