‘He outworks people who are half his age’

LODA — In his 90 years, Loda resident Roy Hilgendorf has accomplished many things.

Perhaps none stand out as much as the improvements he made to the town’s park.

So it only seemed fitting that on Aug. 27, 2017, two days shy of his 90th birthday, the 1945 graduate of Loda High School would be sitting in that park as many of his family members, neighbors, friends and fellow former village board members dropped by to wish him a happy birthday.

Hilgendorf spent the day, clad in a yellow T-shirt with the words “90 or 9?” on it, greeting everyone with his wife of 68 years, Margaret.

“We would not have near the park we have without Roy,” said Carol Arseneau, the current village board president, who served as a village trustee for many years with

Hilgendorf. “He was so dedicated to not only the park, but to the village, as well. He always did what he thought was best for the village. No one could ever question that. He was very enthusiastic and a good trustee.”

As a trustee, Hilgendorf not only obtained donations for the park for various projects, including the repair of its pavilion, but also spent countless hours pulling weeds, cleaning the bathrooms and painting.

“That is truly the most energetic 90-year-old I have ever seen,” said John Zalaker, a former trustee who sat next to Hilgendorf at the board’s monthly meetings. “He outworks people who are half his age.

“The park is just one of the things that you can see the results. He did so much in the park, and it was all donated time. He did so many other things that went unnoticed and were not publicized. The people of Loda will benefit from the things he did far past his time on this earth.”

Hilgendorf originally was appointed to the board in 2003 by then-Village Board President Jon Boone. Hilgendorf was appointed to complete a two-year term.

“Roy is a resident who cares,” said Boone. “He has been feisty at times, but I would rather see that than someone who says nothing. He was a good trustee, and I can’t recall him being absent many times, if at all. He is just an all-around good person.”

When Hilgendorf got onto the board, he immediately made the park his pet project. When he did the improvements, he would seek donations at times.

“I knew the park was a tremendous cause, and I built trust with the people,” said Hilgendorf. “I would tell them what we were raising money for, and the money would go for that. I always appreciated the help that the village residents and the fellow board members gave. We also got help from the church, American Legion Post 503 and VFW in Gibson City.”

Other than the work in the park, Hilgendorf could also be seen clearing brush and patching streets for the village. Other activities included coaching baseball when he was younger. He also helped with the Special Olympics for years, providing security for competitions held at Illinois State University. The competitors, he said, all call him “Mr. Hilgendorf” to this day.

Hilgendorf opted not to run for re-election to the village board earlier this year.

“I remember thinking that I was going to stay for a bit if the people would allow me,” said Hilgendorf. “While it was only 15 years ago, it was a different time. People seemed more neighborly. We need to treat each other that way again. Loda is so small, I feel that the people in the village are all my neighbors, not just the ones who live in my immediate vicinity. There are many more regulations today.”

Hilgendorf was born Aug. 29, 1927. He signed up for the U.S. Navy in 1945. He did his basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Station north of Chicago. From there, the 17-year-old, who had graduated from high school, was assigned to Japan for post-war cleanup. The young military man was assigned to Yokosuka in the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan.

“That was our area,” said Hilgendorf of the Navy. “The Marines were close by, and the country was divided up. Japan is where I got my first license. I had a service license and basically learned to drive in a military vehicle called a ‘six-by.’”

Hilgendorf would be in the Navy until 1948. Upon returning home, he got married in 1949 and settled into the life of a gentleman farmer. While he did not own property, Hilgendorf, with the help of his wife, Margaret, had pigs, cattle, chickens. He was always in the vicinity of Loda. He spent two years farming north of Buckley, then worked a rented farm east of Loda.

“We had 500 chickens and would sell eggs all the way into Chicago,” recalled Hilgendorf. “They would send trucks to get the eggs. I remember one winter, we had 39 pregnant female pigs. It was warmer in that barn with all the heated lamps going than it was in the house. We never went hungry. We had eggs, meat and milk.”

From the farm, Hilgendorf worked as a shipping clerk at France Broom Co. in Paxton. He was employed there from 1963 until his retirement in 1992. He was in charge of shipping out the brooms, and before they were brooms, receiving the straw and various products that made the brooms.

Hilgendorf and his wife raised five children. Richard (66), Mike (65), Linda Cox (64), Nancy Ecker (61) and Donald (53) all live in the area. They also have nine grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. They also have eight step-grandchildren.

In 2011, Hilgendorf went on an Honor Flight for World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., and his daughter Nancy Ecker was his chaperone.

Hilgendorf continues to be active in his local American Legion post and in the Loda United Methodist Church.

Categories (3):News, Living, People
Location (3):Local, Iroquois County, Loda

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