1919 – 2012 Ninety-two Years Young
“I never met a German car I didn’t like”
“I regret that I didn’t fly under the Mackinaw Bridge when I had the chance.”
“Real musicians don’t dance.”
“If you build your own home, be sure you have a view of the sunset.”
“If a kid comes to your door selling things for their school, buy as much as you can. It will make that kid have confidence and could change their life.”
“Cruise control was invented for people who don’t really like to drive…and who doesn’t like to drive?”
“Religion is responsible for some of the biggest atrocities of humankind.”
“Know the names of our artists, authors, architects, scientists and inventors…not our TV or movie stars of the week.”
“Always admire the sunrise, sunset and the moon in the early evening sky…these are perfection.”
“When the Star Spangled Banner is played be sure to sing…people are still trying to get into this country you know?”
Ever optimistic, convinced that the glass was not only half full, but ready to over-flow, one of the truly funny people one will ever know has died. Our father, Robert Martin Hildorf, passed away on the first day of Spring, March 20, 2012. Born in Lansing, Michigan on November 30, 1919, he was the son of George and Elizabeth (Auge) Hildorf. He attended elementary, middle and high school in Lansing and was proud to be a graduate of Lansing Central high school in June of 1937. He was President of the junior class, led the Grand March at the Junior-Senior Prom, won the medal in Latin, graduated in the top five of his class and was a member of the Central High School Swingsters jazz band. He loved three establishments in Lansing: Kewpes (“Those Olive burgers are unforgettable!”) The Peanut Shop (“Could there be a nicer aroma?”) and Kositchek’s (“Four generations doesn’t just happen in a business. Lansing men have it made that this store is in our city.”) Bob knew the city as if he were a cab driver and could tell you the block number of almost every established business, church or landmark. Directions were important to him and he expected everyone to know North, South, East and West at every turn in the road or while flying through the clouds. Latitude and longitude were a whole other conversation. Casual comments about the weather led to discussions of barometric pressure, cold fronts and the jet stream.
His father, George, passed away in 1930 which forced a young man to accept responsibility for the welfare of his mother and young sister. He worked after school giving piano lessons and played in dance bands at night and also found time to work in various retail establishments including J.W. Knapp Department Store and Two Legs. Bob knew that his potential to contribute even a small amount of extra money to the family became critical for survival. He was taught to never complain, look for the rainbow in the rain storm, work hard and play harder. His German ancestors were proud of automotive technology and he was enamored with cars throughout his entire life. His family stopped keeping a list, loved watching cars come and go… though there were a few that they wished he had kept. Some of the happiest days of his life were those that included a new car…a new German car.
Music became a passion and outlet for emotion throughout his life. Jazz musicians of his era in Lansing will complement his playing style and his children grew up knowing the words to every Ella, Sinatra, and Ellington song. He played jazz piano in local bands before and after World War II at local Lansing clubs including The Baby Grand, The Black and Tan and The Manhattan Club. He was happy to listen to music for hours and believed that Tony Bennett had the best piano man of all time: Ralph Sharon. Bob was delighted to fund the Jazz Scholarship at Wharton Center, believing that all young people should know this unique American music style. He admired each generation’s approach to the evolving quality of music and dance, yet believed jazz to be one of the most important.
Enlisting during World War Two in October 0f 1942, Bob was in the final week of Pilot School in San Antonio, Texas when he could not resist the temptation to dive bomb the flocks of sheep one last time when returning his plane to the base. He had been reprimanded for this and told he would be demoted. He always said he wished the Air Force had a better sense of humor. He was stationed in Bury St. Edmonds, England with the Eighth Air Force and was shot down over Germany on his thirteenth mission on October 7, 1944. His entire crew survived. The German fighter pilot waved at Bob has his B-17 was going down, and Bob thought it was only polite to give him a salute back. He and two other crew members were able to hide during the days and travel at night toward safety, eventually however they became sick, exhausted and hungry and were captured by a German farmer who took them to the local beer hall for a meal. He was interrogated and then hospitalized, with a cracked rib and slight concussion. While recuperating in what had been a German music school turned hospital, he found one entire ballroom of grand pianos. He played a different piano each day for thirty-seven days before being sent to a prisoner of war camp near the border of Poland. He was liberated on April 29, 1945 and celebrated that day every year. His return home to his loving family after surviving the atrocities of that war, made him appreciate every day and the simple pleasures of life. He was proud of the might of the American military yet considered war the worst possible solution to world conflict. He had been reported “missing in action: presumed dead” to his young wife who bravely accepted his air medals and Purple Heart on his behalf. The War Department later confirmed that his dog tag number, name and rank were heard by a Ham radio operator in Canada broadcast in an enemy propaganda program which was confirmed by the American Red Cross. His family was notified by telegram that he was alive and in a POW camp. His wife walked from the RE Olds factory to her home never remembering one step of the journey to read the telegram. Bob’s exit itinerary upon the end of the war included a long and happy walk across the German country side which was blooming with the promise of spring, catching a ride to Camp Lucky Strike, being sent by boat to South Hampton, England and then boarding an ocean liner to New York City. He was tan, well-fed and well-rested when he arrived. He told all who would listen that the next time he went to Germany, he would make his own hotel reservations….and he did.
The GI Bill provided the opportunity to attend college and he found time for classes in business and accounting during the day while playing in dance bands at night. He started a small accounting business and read about a new company called H & R Block in the Wall Street Journal that proposed to start a nation-wide business dedicated to the preparation of personal income tax returns. He had the same idea. He wrote to the company and learned they would be interviewing accountants in Michigan as potential franchise owners. Bob made sure he was at the interview. His business evolved into RKL, Inc., which owned and operated H & R Block franchises in Michigan and Indiana. The business provided a wonderful seasonal focused employment that allowed summers on Torch Lake, European travel in early fall followed by a winter and spring devoted to twelve hour work days. The business was sold when Bob was eighty-four. His creative approach as a young accountant where the numbers were often “rounded off” led to a profession that suited his attitude and allowed his family to work with him and prosper. He often thanked his lucky stars and the support of Dart National Bank when he was just beginning in business.
Bob was a good teacher by example, well-read, creative and clever, inspiring to his family and friends and very funny. It would take a week of conversations to give justice to the depth of his remarks and explain the situations that provoked the unforgettable laughter that was part of each and every day. He was capable of being very generous, yet also selfish. He was capable of being very kind, but not considerate. He looked for the good in all he met, yet was serious about the three strike rule. He was a loyal fan. He was sure that his first serve was always in, his ball was not only the furthest in the fairway but also soon to be the closest to the pin.
The first funeral Bob ever attended was that of his father’s. He told his family he planned that to be his last. He did not plan on attending his own. He asked that there be no service and that those he loved gather at a place he loved, watching a sunset and sharing a martini.
Often when his children would bring in the morning paper, he would ask…”Did you check?” This question expressed his hope that his name was not in the obituary section of the Lansing State Journal. We did our best to be sure that his wishes were honored.
Kurt W. Hildorf / Son
Cathy (Buck) Hildorf, Daughter-in-law
Lisa S. Hildorf / Daughter
Mark Castellani, MD, Son-in-law
Robert had two children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Please no flowers. Charitable contributions may be made in honor of Robert Hildorf to the following two organizations: Three Lakes Association, PO Box 689, Bellaire, Michigan 49615 or Coaches VS Cancer 2012, Kelly Powell, Director, 1755 Abbey Road, East Lansing, Michigan 48823.
A graveside service will be held at 1:00 p.m. on June 24, 2012, at Helena Township Cemetery, Alden, MI.