When selecting the City of Falls Church’s own Mount Rushmore, who would make the cut? Jessie Thackrey, Edwin Henderson, Charles Tinner and perhaps even George Mason, to name a few. But one name that deserves its share of air time in the public comment section is Lindy Hockenberry, who, whether in the classroom or on the dais at City Hall, has done her part to enrich the City’s presence both within its borders and regionally in her 50 years here.
From her arrival in 1969 to her exit from the City’s Planning Commission — which will be made official once she gets to participate in one final meeting at the newly renovated City Hall — Hockenberry’s had her hands in a little bit of everything. She’s taught at multiple grades at Falls Church City Public Schools, served two terms as a City Council member, once as vice mayor, and has generally been a recognizable face and personality that seems to just pop up at any event in Falls Church, big or small.
Maybe it’s by design so she can sneak her way onto the Mount Rushmore-concept put forward here (what’s the point of being so active in the City if you can’t slap your name on a few things, right?). But let’s take her at her word that her love for Falls Church jibes with her nature as a caring individual who knows how to connect with people, including those who aren’t her biggest fans.
“This senior was going for their internship and asked me, ‘Ms. Hockenberry, what should I do?’ I said, ‘Smile. That’ll get you all the way. Smile,’” Hockenberry said. “I think that’s what gets me along; I smile and say ‘Hi’ to everybody. And some of them I know that might have a little problem with me, I say ‘Hi’ even more often and ask them how they’re doing.”
Raised on a farm along Route 20 between Albany, New York and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Hockenberry lived under a staircase and didn’t have any friends until she was 13 — seriously. Blame the abundance of cow pastures on her paltry social life. The stairwell room situation, well, let Hockenberry lay that one out for you (spoiler alert: it wasn’t permanent, but yes, it was very Harry Potter-esque).
Hockenberry graduated high school in 1957 and went on to attend Gettysburg College where she met her future husband, Bill. She left Gettysburg after two years to start a family with Bill, who joined the military and was assigned to Büdingen, Germany in 1962 with the newly-minted Hockenberry family being one of the first groups to move to the country after the Berlin Wall was erected. Hockenberry brought her young son, Tim, across the Atlantic and had her second child, Beth, overseas before moving back home to Louisville in 1965 where she completed her education at the then-Catherine Spalding College.
Given a choice between becoming a nurse or a teacher by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who run the now-Spalding University, Hockenberry thought “I’d had enough of the bodily fluids by then with my two kids, so I’ll be a teacher.”
For someone who assumed they didn’t like children, Hockenberry would gradually unearth her life’s greatest passion in education.
Once she and Bill chose the City of Falls Church as their landing spot in 1969 — with Bill teaching at George Mason High School and Hockenberry at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School — it didn’t take long for the young couple to start advocating for teacher’s rights and benefits outside of the classroom. Bill took the initiative, though after their marriage broke off, people started to look at Hockenberry for that same guidance. She took that mantle in stride and represented teachers at school board meetings for the next 20 years.
You could say Hockenberry had seen it all in the FCCPS. From a scare about losing the school system when enrollment had dropped to dangerously low numbers to the closing of Madison Elementary School and the one rabble-rousing year she, Harry Shovlin and Tam Bellou team-taught at Mason Middle School, Hockenberry’s been a part of each generational episode of the City’s schools. It’s helped, from her perspective, to have the culture the school’s created and the students so willing to be a part of it.
“We just have such beautiful young people. Our school’s small enough, you sometimes wonder how we have so many talented kids,” Hockenberry added. “I also love the relationship between the students and the administration and teachers. No one’s afraid to talk to anyone or ask for an opinion on anything around here.”
Hockenberry’s retirement from teaching in 2000 segued into a City Council run and victory that same year, where she joined a new crop of members who were progressive toward development. The crew got to work right away, bringing in the Broadway, then the Spectrum and followed by the Byron and Pearson Square in a short span of time. While the Great Recession put the kibosh on other projects, according to Hockenberry, she and her fellow councilmembers tackled a major perception hurdle by showing that the influx of development wasn’t going to overcrowd the schools as some residents originally feared.
She lost her re-election campaign in 2008 after spending the previous school year teaching fifth grade at TJ when then-teacher Pete Rose’s death left a vacancy, but Hockenberry continued her service to the City on the Planning Commission for the decade that followed.
So, what’s next for Hockenberry?
First, it’s remembrance time for the influences that got her this far — such as her father, Lindy Reeves, a long haul truck driver and board of supervisors member in Schodack, New York and, Nancy Sprague, the former principal of Mason Middle, who were her personal and teaching heroes, respectively. Hockenberry also cited Shovlin and former English teacher Michael Hoover as great companions who assisted in the maturation of the City. And, of course, she wouldn’t be where she is now without her children Tim and Beth, their six grandchildren and her partner, Ed Christensen.
After that, it’s back to keeping the City on its progressive track. The bond referendum passed in 2017 prevented Hockenberry from standing in the middle of Route 7 to advocate for a new high school (commuters everywhere are thankful for that), but now it’s on to pushing for more affordable housing options so the City can continue to bring young professionals into its limits.
Upon further review, maybe Mount Rushmore-worthy is a bit of a stretch. But it’s hard to deny that Hockenberry deserves an honorable mention among countless others who’ve taken the City in the right direction and kept the village spirit alive, even as its appearance has changed.