LOCKPORT – Former Lockport resident Robin Hoch chose a tough path, following her father into the steamfitters union.
Now, at age 50, she has had a varied career as a steamfitter and entrepreneur. She is the owner of Performance Solutions Services, where she is a consultant for construction projects, and is also the co-owner of Niagara River Cruises. She continues to thank her father, the late Robert G. Hoch, who started her down her career path, with an annual fundraising walk dedicated to his memory.
Hoch lived in Lockport for 17 years and then moved to Grand Island in 2008. She started a memory walk along the Niagara River in her father’s name in 2010. This year, for the first time, the walk will be sponsored by Niagara Hospice and move to the hospice grounds, 4675 Sunset Drive. It will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Hoch said she started the walk to give back.
“My father died in 1993, but he had a love for the outdoors,” she said. “He loved to snowmobile. He loved to boat. He was a hunter. This a great way to remember that person one day a year, think about them, celebrate, reminisce with everyone who has experienced a loss. It doesn’t have to be someone who was in hospice. It’s for anybody.”
How did the memory walk get started?
I lived in Grand Island and started the memory walk in honor of my father. We had done it for five years along the Niagara River. We were successful in raising almost $50,000 for the Erie County hospice. I made a decision last year not to do it anymore, because of my schedule and work load, and told everybody it was the fifth and final. A friend of mine knew Mary Brennan Taylor (vice president of programming at the YWCA and a Niagara Hospice board member). She was there and we talked. Later I heard she was interested in taking the event over. Erie County hospice couldn’t find anyone to take it over and Mary said they were interested. They asked my family to be co-chairs. It’s been great so far. Like we did with mine, you can snowshoe or ski or just walk it. Niagara County Hospice has amazing grounds. They are going to make a trail around the grounds and they are going to put memory signs all around the route. It’s around one and a half to two miles.
You don’t have to be into 5Ks. It’s more about getting out and enjoying the atmosphere and what the walk is about.
Why did you pick a winter walk?
There’s so many 5Ks and family events in the summer. I always remembered that after the Super Bowl, what do you do until spring? So we decided after the Super Bowl we would have a memory walk. It brings all kinds of people together. We’ve all lost somebody.
You must have been close to your dad.
I was. He was just 53 when he died. He died of a massive heart attack, but he had been battling cancer since he was 47 and the chemo at that time was very experimental.
What is your profession?
I’m an entrepreneur. I have two businesses, one as a consultant doing construction management services for commercial projects. My background is as a union steamfitter for 20 years. So I was a certified welder and I worked on all kinds of commercial projects. I was the first female foreman.
That’s kind of unusual for women to be in this field.
When I started back in the late ’80s, it was very few and far between to see a woman in the field or in the trades.
Was that tough, to get respect from the men you worked with?
It was definitely a tough row to sow. You had to be strong and prove yourself. It was interesting to prove yourself to yourself, but then you felt that you were one of only a few other females in our trade and you constantly had to make sure (you represented other women). That’s why I got into welding, because it was kind of an art. I thought if I could do this I could do one more thing than half the guys in our local who couldn’t weld.
Where did you work?
I did my apprenticeship with Danforth and then other companies looked me up.
What made you decide to get into this field?
My father, Robert Hoch. My dad was a certified welder for Local 395 in Orchard Park. I’m an original 395er, but they merged with Buffalo Steamfitters and then merged with Buffalo Plumbers and Niagara Falls Plumbers and Fitters. Now the only local you hear of is Local 22, which is still in Orchard Park.
Why did you want to follow your dad?
In school I played a lot of sports and never thought about my grades. I thought I would go to college and I went, but it just wasn’t for me. I was more hands-on than the book part. I told my dad I wanted to get into the union. He knew what it was like and he said, “Are you sure?” I told him I wanted to at least try it. I took the test, and I didn’t know this until years later, but they called my father and said, “Your daughter did very well, but the decision is up to you.” Years down the line, I heard that from one of the union officers.
Does that make you proud that your dad trusted in you?
Oh, absolutely. He let me have the opportunity, knowing that honestly it was not an easy road. People thought I got in because of my family. But I went to school for five years and they saw how it worked against me. My one uncle was an instructor and he made it super hard for me. No preferential treatment here. It was an interesting career, but a rewarding career.
What made it rewarding?
I loved being a role model. I wanted to be a role model for other women. I would go to places and talk to high school girls at BOCES and the Y and let them know that there is an amazing opportunity out here for you. If you want to work, the sky is the limit.
Why did you leave that career?
I broke a lot of glass ceilings. I left the field because I wanted to do management. I beat my body up for 20 years. I wanted to take it to the next step and go into the white-collar aspect. I knew the field. I knew how to install and run everything and the ins and out. I just had to learn the paper trail, which was easy. I went to work for a company and then we formed our own company, which I was part owner of. But they had other plans, so I left. I woke up the next day and said, “Wow. I have to start a business.” And I just hit the ground running (starting her own business in 2006). People knew me and knew I had a lot of integrity. They believed in me and gave me opportunities. I was very blessed.
You also have another unrelated business in tourism, offering cruises along the upper Niagara River.
We started Niagara River Cruises in 2013. That was based on a vision of seeing the waterfront develop along the Niagara River and seeing what other places are doing with water taxis and shuttles. It started as a conversation with Tom Hauser, my business partner, while we were at the Sandy Beach Yacht Club in Youngstown. We got together from January to June and we got a business going with a website and a boat – everything. We’ve had three seasons and people love it. We went down a little bit last summer because of all the attention to Buffalo, but we are always an advocate of new business and restaurants along the Niagara River. We do weddings, sunset cruises and take people from Grand Island to Niagara Falls, to restaurants and festivals and concerts in neighboring cities. It’s for people who want to get out and see Niagara County from the water.
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