Appeared in the Gazette, Spring/Summer 2020
by Holly Marihugh
Piloting a Thunderbird Huey helicopter over the Mekong Delta in Vietnam took Phil Hoza a long way from the North Shore. But through a twist of fate, sudden fire from Viet Cong forces changed the
outcome of Hoza’s life and eventually returned him safely to his family here.
The year was 1967 and Hoza, who’d joined the Army after graduating from the University of North Dakota, had trained as a helicopter pilot.
“I was flying as a gunship pilot and was protecting the transport of troops,” Hoza says. “I was shot in the leg while flying over a Viet Cong unit with my platoon leader. I was medevacked to Saigon and then to Japan. From there, I ended up at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Colorado.”
Back in Vietnam only ten days later, Hoza’s entire crew was killed when the helicopter they were flying in was shot down by the Viet Cong.
“Fate is strange,” Hoza says as he looks down at the commemorative bracelet encircling his wrist. It bears the name of the 336th Army Assault Helicopter Company and represents an enduring connection to his fellow soldiers.
During his three-year Army career, Hoza earned the rank of Captain and returned with a Purple Heart, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, an Air Medal for Valor, and 15 Air Medal Decorations for combat.
When he returned to the North Shore, Hoza reconnected with the deep roots his family has in Winnetka, which now make up four generations of family. Currently, Hoza heads Bratschi Plumbing, which his grandfather, Walter Bratschi, founded.
Both sets of Hoza’s grandparents, the Bratschis and the Hozas, moved to the village in the 1920s. After living in Chicago, they found that Winnetka offered an inviting small town life.
“They all lived in the same Chicago rooming house and liked to play cards together. Eventually they moved up here,” Hoza says. “There were a lot of homes then that were not that expensive. So you could live comfortably here, and you had good access to the railroad.” Having a railroad close by then is akin to having ready access to O’Hare Airport now.
Walter Bratschi, a Swiss immigrant, opened the doors to his namesake company in 1937. Four generations of the family have worked at the company, including Phil’s oldest daughters, Betsy Hoza Harootyan and Carrie Hoza, who is a licensed journeyman plumber. Carrie was an Army Captain like her dad, and she served in Iraq.
Hoza’s paternal grandfather, Philip Hoza Sr., was a tailor for Marshall Field’s Department Store and then opened a shop on Lincoln Avenue in town and another in Lake Forest. During the Great Depression, Grandfather Hoza earned extra income from the family home on Arbor Vitae Road.
“As a child growing up, I would go to my grandparents’ house, and there’d be all sorts of strange people,” Hoza says. “All the rooms had locks on the doors. That’s how they got through the Depression, by renting out rooms. A lot of homes in Winnetka became rooming houses during that time.”
The grounding of his family in village history has spurred Hoza to make community service a priority, including joining the Winnetka Historical Society Board in 1974. In 1980, Hoza stepped up to become WHS president when he was only 37, making him one of the youngest leaders in that role. Now, he’s been a WHS board member for 41 years (two separate terms), giving him the status of being one of the longest serving.
Since the 1970s, Hoza has also served on the Board of the Winnetka Youth Organization and the Skokie School Foundation. In addition, he was a two-term Clerk of New Trier Township and a two-term Township Trustee. He created a local tornado alert system and coordinated a Township CPR training program for residents. Hoza’s service includes all that and more beyond village borders.
One of the most satisfying experiences of Hoza’s public service was raising the funds and leading a team to build a memorial honoring longtime community doctor, Clarence Minnema. A large bronze circular plaque with the doctor’s image was dedicated on Memorial Day 1977 and was embedded in the brick sidewalk at the corner of Elm and Chestnut for more than 40 years. The location was fitting since Dr. Minnema had treated patients in his office at 817 Elm Street from 1933-1975.
“Dr. Minnema would respond to accidents and jump to help any time someone was hurt badly,” Hoza says. “Back in that day, they didn’t have ambulances or paramedics. They had a station wagon with a red light on the top, which meant basically, load ‘em and go.” (Ambulance/Paramedic service in Illinois began in 1972.)
Five grown children from two marriages make up the Hoza family, and everyone graduated from New Trier High School.
“I put five children through college,” he laughs. “There’s no college debt, but there were five cars and five wrecks.”
When Hoza thinks back on his early days in Winnetka, he remembers Maple Street Beach in the summer.
“As a child, I saw they had a pool where you could clean your feet off, and it had a plug,” he says. “The best part is that I’d fill it up, make rivers, and then let the water out. Maybe that’s why I became a plumber. Because of my earliest memories of playing in the water and sand on Maple Street beach.” He smiles. ■