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If Shel Hoffman had lived to see the new year, his wife, Judy, said Thursday, he would have said, "It's a bluebird day!"

Never mind the rapidly spreading colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver or the foundering real estate market where he had plied his trade. Shel Hoffman, a pioneer of the Minneapolis riverfront condo market, focused on the bright side of things.

Described as an eternal optimist, Hoffman, 63, died Wednesday at his St. Louis Park home surrounded by family.

Hoffman was born in Minneapolis in 1945, attended Washburn High School and graduated from Augsburg College with a bachelor's degree in secondary education. He taught at St. Bartholomew Catholic School in Wayzata, where he met the daughter of Roger Fazendin of Fazendin Realtors, who would help him break into his new career.

When Hoffman took a test to determine his aptitude for selling real estate, his wife recalled, he was told he'd never make it. "He was told that he was too kind to be a closer," she said. "That's what his hallmark was. He was kind to everybody."

Hoffman started out with developer Bob Boisclair working on the Lake Point Condominiums, a Minneapolis high-rise overlooking Lake Calhoun that was finished in 1978. In the mid-1980s, he became marketing director for Riverplace, a condo, office and retail complex on SE. Main Street along the east bank of the Mississippi River.

"That's when the market went into the tank," Judy Hoffman said.

She said her husband helped market the Falls and La Rive condos. He got involved on the ground floor of such developments because he knew what the buyers wanted, she said.

His customers remembered him fondly. "My wife and I bought a condo at La Rive from Shel in 1985," Barry Rubin wrote Wednesday on a Facebook memorial page. "He was the most accommodating real estate agent to work with. He never said 'no' to any request no matter how large or small. He was the definition of a gentleman."

His colleagues agreed. "Ol' Uncle Shel, as we called him, will always have a special place in my heart," wrote Cynthia Kay Froid of Keller Williams Realty. "He took me under his wing as a young rookie in the business and shared so much of his love for the business, the community and life with me."

Hoffman worked with Brighton Development Corp., then eventually formed his own company, S.R. Hoffman and Associates, which later became Hoffman Parkin Urban Realty.

Scott Parkin said Hoffman was instrumental in getting people to move to the riverfront. "It was just really upper-crust, aristocratic bluebloods of the entire city, and really captains of industry, that moved into all those homes," Parkin said. "Shel was coordinating all of that, and he touched all of them."

Parkin bought Hoffman out last summer, but said the company name will remain the same in honor of his mentor.

Hoffman is survived by Judy, his wife of 38 years; a daughter, Katherine Lee of Robbinsdale; a son, David, of Big Sky, Mont., and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Edina Community Lutheran Church.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493