FAIRBANKS -- Although he earned a degree in divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary in October, if Randy Hoffbeck does any preaching in the near future, it will be on matters of finance in his new role as head of the Alaska Department of Revenue.
About five years ago, after retiring from work in government finance and administration?, Hoffbeck decided he wanted to become a full-time pastor.
"I really felt a call to ministry for a long time," he said, so he worked nights and weekends to tackle online seminary studies with Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Virginia.
"Because I was in Barrow I didn't have the option of doing any on-campus classes, so it worked out well," said Hoffbeck, the former chief of staff of the North Slope Borough. "It wasn't easy, but it was worth it."
Hoffbeck, by now no stranger to the practice of preaching, still feels the call to become a full-time pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. But "that will be delayed for a while until I finish this job," he said of his new position as Commissioner of Revenue under Gov. Bill Walker.
It's the latest in a long series of unexpected career moves for Hoffbeck, beginning when he came to Alaska 35 years ago after studying resource management in the School of Forestry at the University of Minnesota, to prepare for what he thought would be his career as a park ranger. But in Alaska, he found himself working on land law adjudication behind a desk before going into real estate and home construction in the 1980s.
"Life has led me in a lot of different directions and I've enjoyed them all," Hoffbeck said in a recent phone interview from his Juneau office.
His credentials for the top position in the revenue department include many years as an appraiser and supervisor for the Municipality of Anchorage, five years as petroleum property assessor for the state and five years as chief financial officer of the North Slope Borough.
He also served as chief of staff under North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, who called him dedicated, honest, smart and a good choice in these trying times: "He has a higher calling, but now his higher calling is to help the whole state of Alaska," she said.
It was because of his spiritual calling Hoffbeck was not in Alaska when Walker announced his appointment in November. Hoffbeck and his wife Cindy, normally a substance abuse counselor who has lately been working at the wastewater treatment plant in Deadhorse, were in Kenya on a medical mission with other volunteers from Alaska, California, Idaho and Colorado. In Nairobi, the volunteers held a series of clinics in poor neighborhoods, seeing hundreds of patients a day.
"What started out as organized chaos finished about the same. This was a first for most of the Alaska team, but what a great experience," one of the mission team members wrote in a blog post about the first clinics on the trip. One day, they traveled six hours by bus to a rural site, with the last eight miles on a dirt road that "was more dirt than road," one member wrote.
The houses were made of mud and dung, surrounded by fields of maize and mangoes. The younger children in that village had never seen a white person before and were afraid at first, Hoffbeck said. The other Alaska volunteers included Larry and Beth Smith, Craig and Deb Schreiber, Hannah Dompier and Meghan Bennett.
He said it wouldn't have taken much to convince him to stay in Kenya. "The needs were so great and the people were so wonderful," he said.
"My wife and I were there primarily for the spiritual aspect of it," Hoffbeck said, but added he was also willing to sweep floors and handle other chores.
Cindy and Randy have three grown sons: Sean, 30, is the vice president of Alaska Christian College in Soldotna; Ian, 27, is an engineer and a solar energy entrepreneur working in Dubai and Afghanistan; and their youngest, Shane, 25, is completing a degree at Southern Oregon University in international relations.
Friends of Hoffbeck say he is a quick learner who has proven he can adapt. It's evident in the trajectory his life has taken.
Although he'd moved to Alaska to pursue a career as a park ranger, his shift to real estate in the '80s quickly led to the discovery the "appraiser was always the person who got paid first," he said. He became an appraiser and eventually worked as a supervisor for the Municipality of Anchorage. When the North Slope Borough began a program to audit oil and gas property tax payments, the agency chose Hoffbeck to help set it up.
And in 2006, with the borough's finance director about to retire, Hoffbeck went to Barrow to serve as director of administration and finance.
"It's really been on-the-job training all the way through," he said of his multiple positions. "It wasn't a career that I planned, but it's one that I've enjoyed, with a lot of good challenges."