Corey Hoeffler was understandably devastated when his father passed away. In fact, they were so close that he would visit his father’s grave two times a day, sometimes more. Sadly, however, the family was shattered once again when someone stole the gravestone. But after it went missing, Corey visited the graveyard and saw a mysterious marker where the headstone had once been. And he had no idea how it got there.
The Hoefflers were a well-loved family in Lebanon, Ohio. Ronald Hoeffler was born in Cincinnati and raised in the suburb of Reading, but he had lived in the Lebanon area for more than two decades. He was married to Jennifer and they had three children – Cassie, Corey and Chad.
At 51 years old, Ronald had taken early retirement from his work at the Ohio Department of Transportation. Instead, he spent his time coaching local sports teams. Indeed, his love of sports almost matched the love he undoubtedly had for his family.
But in April 2015 tragedy struck the Hoefflers. While running some errands in Lebanon, Ronald was caught up in a collision on the interstate involving three semi-trailers. Tragically, his injuries were so severe that first responders pronounced him dead at the scene.
The devastated family buried their beloved Ronald at the Rosehill Cemetery in Mason. While Cassie was the daughter of both Jennifer and Ronald, Corey and Chad were the product of Jennifer’s previous relationship. Nonetheless, Ronald had treated the two boys as his own.
Corey, in particular, had been close to his father. At the time of his dad’s passing, he spoke to Dayton Daily News. “He’s going to be missed dearly. There were a lot of unfinished things here,” said the bereaved son. “It was not his time. Our family is broken and very confused at the moment.”
After his father’s burial, Corey had a temporary marker placed on the grave while they awaited the completion of his permanent headstone. In tribute to his dad’s favorite team, Ohio State, the grieving son placed a small gravestone to mark his dear father’s final resting place.
Every day Corey would visit his father’s grave. Perhaps he spent time alone with his thoughts, or maybe he still talked to his dad. He was still grieving after all, and doing what he could to deal with his loss. Perhaps being close to his dad helped Corey to process what had happened.
The temporary headstone might not have been much, but it was important to the family to honor their father in the right way. It looked like a small trophy, and bore the Ohio State logo, with the Stars and Stripes proudly standing at either side. And while it was modest, it meant the world to the Hoefflers.
Modest it may have been, but it certainly caught someone’s attention. Because one day when Corey visited his father, the makeshift headstone was gone. A thief had come in the night and stolen the grave marker. And once again the family was left completely heartbroken.
“This is a sacred ground, it shouldn’t be touched in any way,” Corey told 9 On Your Side in July 2015. Indeed, this most disrespectful of acts happened on the very soil where people come to pay their respects to loved ones. No wonder the Hoefflers hearts were devastated.
A local news station picked up the story and word spread throughout the community. Corey, meanwhile, appealed to the unknown thief to return the makeshift gravestone. As aggrieved as the family was by the heartless act, all they wanted was for their father’s stuff to be returned to its rightful place.
But if the thief had heard the pleas, then he or she wasn’t listening. Untouched by the family’s plight, the robber never returned and the grave remained bereft of its special marker. But fortunately, not everyone is that heartless. People were listening, and somebody had a surprise for the Hoefflers.
On his next visit to his father’s grave, Corey saw that something unusual had happened. Where his own Ohio State temporary headstone had once stood, a new, hand-carved marker was standing in its place. And Corey had no idea who had placed it there.
If Corey’s faith in humanity was in tatters after the theft, perhaps that faith was restored after this selfless gesture. He took to Facebook to track down the mystery person who had made the headstone. And when 9 On Your Side heard what had happened, they found the mystery donor.
Barry Reynolds had heard the Hoefflers’ story and felt compelled to do something – despite the fact that he had never met them. So he set to work making a new temporary grave marker. It was a simple yet beautiful stone, engraved and painted with the Ohio State “O”.
“It touched my heart that the man was laying out here with no stone or nothing to remember him by,” Barry told 9 On Your Side. And as simple as the new temporary headstone was, the gesture nonetheless meant the world to Corey and the Hoeffler family.
Corey posted a heartfelt message of gratitude on Facebook. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this! It’s a small and heart felt gesture,” he wrote. And then he issued a plea to his benefactor to get in touch. “I missed you by 5 minutes today when I went back out there. Please contact me so me and my family can thank you in person,” the post continued. “You did not have to go out of your way do this and we want you to know that this simple gesture is sincerely appreciated!”
The pair were united by 9 On Your Side, and the story even inspired others to make their own donations. Indeed, soon after, Corey returned to the grave to find a second hand painted grave marker sitting on his father’s resting place. It was a small gesture but one that helped the family through a difficult time.
“Words can’t describe how grateful we are for your actions,” Corey said of Barry’s donation. A family friend made a larger temporary stone to mark Ronald’s resting spot before the permanent one was completed. And fittingly, Ronald’s headstone now features the two biggest loves of his life: family and Ohio State.