Pictured: Mud Bowl (Thanksgiving Day, 1951): Les Hohl '52 (second from left) celebrates with teammates after throwing the game-winning extra point to Tom Sullivan '52 to defeat Southwest 13-12 for the District Championship. Pictured from left are Rocky Brennan '52, Hohl, Bill Hebron '52, Art Demmas '52, Coach C.J. Taylor, Mr. Faherty of the Globe-Democrat.
Years ago theology teacher and Athletic Director emeritus Dick Wehner introduced the phrase, "Tradition Never Graduates." Les Hohl '52, a sports legend who Wehner refers to as one of the top athletes in school history, started a three-generation tradition of excellence when he came to SLUH. But there's much more to his story.
Combing through Les's myriad sports accomplishments, illustrated in a thick binder filled with old photos and newspaper clippings in his office, is a feat in and of itself. At SLUH he lettered in football (All-State, District Championship), basketball (All-State, State Championship) and baseball. He played basketball and baseball on an athletic scholarship at Saint Louis University, where he was a baseball player-coach as a senior.
"Les was one of the most celebrated high school athletes in St. Louis in the early Fifties," says Wehner.
In 1956, following college, Les married Patricia (they recently celebrated their 60th anniversary) and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He served for two years in Japan, where he also played amateur baseball and basketball for the U.S. Upon his return, Les worked in sales for Sylvania Electric in St. Louis. His intellectual prowess, coupled with experience he had previously earned as a construction laborer, earned him great success with the company.
He left Sylvania in 1967 to lead a fledgling City Lighting, where he still works today as the company's president. Under Hohl's leadership, City Lighting has expanded from a small, one-location operation to six cities in the U.S. and Canada with 75 employees. He takes pride in his work, products and the way he treats his employees.
But City Lighting is not the only place Les is leaving his mark. Just visit a SLUH ice hockey, football or baseball game, and you'll hear the name 'Hohl.'
Matthew Hohl '18 plays competitive hockey year-round and was on SLUH's state runner-up teams from 2015-17. His older brother, Michael '12, is a UX (user-experience) researcher and designer who played tennis and was involved in Campus Ministry at SLUH.
"Our grandpa likes to brag that he was the first Hohl to win a state championship," says Matthew, who earned All-Metro Second Team honors as a junior. "I'm striving to join him as a state champ."
Cade Hohl '20, whose father Mike graduated from SLUH in 1989, made the varsity baseball team this spring—as a freshman. He also plays football. Cade has big shoes to fill, and not just those of his grandpa.
Mike played football at Indiana University after starring for three years on SLUH's varsity football team. "He was a rugged linebacker destined for many postseason awards like his father, but a devastating knee injury greatly hampered his ability in both football and basketball," says Wehner.
"My dad always demanded our best effort," says Mike. "If he didn't talk to you on the ride home, you knew you had a bad game."
Grateful for his experience at SLUH, Les insisted his two sons attend a Jesuit high school. Mike chose SLUH, and Tim picked DeSmet (he was an excellent basketball player in high school and a walk-on punter at Mizzou).
"The curriculum at SLUH was tough, and it compelled students to have a stick-with-it attitude," says Les. "That sense of determination has translated well beyond school to the professional world."
He recalls his high school days with great fondness. "When I graduated there were thirty-seven Jesuits, including guys like Francis Coomes, S.J. and Michael Hindelang, S.J. One of them, Walt Halloran, S.J. was involved in a real-life exorcism. He was a renegade Jesuit who became an Army Ranger at 42 years old."
When Les was seven years old, his parents divorced. He then lived with his father and grandmother. "My father went to SLUH's president and said he couldn't afford tuition," recalls Les, "and he said don't worry about it. So I went to both SLUH and SLU for essentially nothing."
Appreciation for his Jesuit education inspires Les's generosity to his alma mater. In addition to being a consistent annual donor and helping with multiple campaigns at SLUH, he and Pat funded the Patricia and Lester Hohl Family Scholarship to benefit qualified students unable to afford tuition.
"Les is more than a sports legend and smart guy who was at the top of our class," says Ralph Houlihan, S.J. '52, who formerly served as SLUH Principal and President at Regis Jesuit High School. "He's the real deal, a true 'man for others' who is genuinely concerned about the needs of others."
If Les was known for tenacity and aggressiveness years ago in athletics, today he could be a model for endurance. He remains active physically and at work. His mind is exceedingly lucid, his outlook optimistic. "Our grandpa refers to himself as the bionic man because he's had so many surgeries," says Matthew. "But that doesn't keep him down. He still does a lot. He's very encouraging and comes to lots of our games."
The 'bionic man' still has high expectations of his family and employees, and he still insists of his grandkids that academics come first, before athletics.
Ultimately, his tradition speaks on levels that balance and even outweigh touchdowns and championships. Perhaps it could be best summed up by his timeless advice: "Work hard, play hard and say your prayers."