Chris Hobler (1965-2005)
Christopher Wells Hobler was 36 years old when he received his ALS diagnosis in the summer of 2001. He immediately became determined to create change in the way research for ALS and related neurological disorders was funded and conducted. In response to doctors telling him there was no hope and nothing he could do, Chris founded ALS Hope—The Chris Hobler/James Maritz Foundation later that year. He initiated a campaign to wage war against the devastating neuromuscular disease that had been diagnosed in two other members of his extended family, his late grandfather, James A. Maritz, Sr. and his cousin, Christopher Rice, of Houston, TX.
In the fall of 2004, ALS Hope became Hope Happens. Among its accomplishments is the founding of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, a collaboration with the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. Among those who have received grants from the organization are Dr. John McDonald, whose work with actor/activist Christopher Reeve gained him national acclaim, and the ALS Therapy Development Foundation in Boston, where the ALS Hope Drug Discovery Center is the world’s largest ALS in vivo drug screening facility.
In 2002, Hobler’s organization hosted the first Hope Summit, a gathering of 18 ALS-related organizations from around the country. Like Hope Happens, many of the participating organizations were founded by persons living with ALS.
“Chris Hobler was a beacon of hope for other persons living with ALS and their families,” said former Hope Happens Executive Director Mike Schroeder. “Chris chose to make his situation public, and he was very successful in focusing attention on ALS and fostering collaboration within the ALS community and beyond that, the neurological research community in general.”
Prior to his ALS diagnosis, Chris was a professional singer and songwriter living in Milton Mills, NH. He performed nationally and released four albums with his rock-and-roll band, Sonic Joyride. He also founded his own record company, Anomaly Records. Sonic Joyride’s 1995 debut album received airplay on 180 college stations and gave the band the opportunity to open concerts for the Spin Doctors and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, among others. The band later gained national acclaim from MTV, CNN and Billboard when it toured the country in a retrofitted, concert-ready school bus, covering 30,000 miles and playing 240 dates on a self-financed voyage to the American heartland. Sonic Joyride played for locals at some of the country’s most unusual landmarks, from the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, KS, to the World’s Largest Bug outside Providence, RI.
A previous incarnation of the band, Spamparis, was based in Boston and in 1993 was named a semi-finalist in Musician Magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band” competition and was dubbed one of the ten best unsigned bands in the city by Boston Magazine’s “The Best of Boston” awards.
“Instead of viewing this as a tragedy, I try to view it as an opportunity,” Chris once told an interviewer about his condition. “If I hadn’t been stricken with ALS I would have spent my life with my music. Now I have the opportunity to do something even more important. Happiness, purpose and contentment come from between your ears, not from circumstances that surround you.”
Chris lost his battle against ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) on Wednesday, February 16, 2005, surrounded by his loving wife, family, friends and caregivers. He was 39 years old.
Chris grew up in St. Louis, graduated from John Burroughs School in 1983 and received his B.A. degree from Bates College in Lewiston, ME, in 1987. At the time of his death, Chris was survived by his wife of seven years, Jennifer Taylor Hobler, his son Aidan, then age 5, daughter Ella, age 3 and son, Trevor, age 1; his mother Jean Maritz Hobler, sisters Leigh Hobler Gerard and Linnard Hobler all of St. Louis and brothers, Peter W. Hobler of Jackson, WY, Edward A. Hobler of Portland, ME, two nieces and two nephews.
Chris was the son of the late Wells Atherton Hobler of St. Louis and grandson of the late Eugenia U. and James A. Maritz, Sr., of St. Louis and the founder of Maritz, Inc. and of the late Ruth W. and Atherton W. Hobler of Princeton, NJ and founder chairman of the former Benton & Bowles advertising agency.