Recruited by Alumni Secretary Perk Robins ’52, Rev. Dr. Don Hillerich ’61 ’64S got a taste of the Wittenberg hospitality the minute he stepped off the Greyhound bus in Springfield in September 1957. With luggage lost and $35 in his pocket, Dean of Students Bob Long ’50 ’52S came to pick him up, and a lifelong relationship with Wittenberg University was sparked.
“It was a nice beginning for a boy from Louisville, Kentucky, whose early ambition was to be Governor of Kentucky,” Don shared.
That warm welcome wasn’t reserved only for Don, however. His high school sweetheart and future spouse, Marty, recalls fondly the open arms she received when visiting Don on campus. “I attended Valparaiso University but was able to visit Don and stay in one of the sorority houses. They made me feel at home,” she said.
A variety of Wittenberg figures made a strong impression on Don. He was the team manager for Coach Ray Mears’ basketball team, and those talented friends – and the entire athletics department – lit an internal fire for athletics that never waned. But it was Campus Pastor Dr. Ralph Krueger who turned Don’s desire for political life into a flame to serve others as a Lutheran minister.
“Dr. Krueger took me under his wing when I helped with chapel,” Don remembered, “and he made a huge difference in my life.”
Don and Marty were later engaged in the Hamma Chapel and lived near campus during the earliest years of their marriage. Marty taught school while Don attended Hamma Divinity School and worked a variety of jobs on campus.
“We went to every athletics event we could,” Marty recalled, “and our apartment was always filled with Witt students. It was wonderful.”
The Hilleriches left Springfield for their first parish in Jeffersonville, Indiana, but it was a phone call from Dr. Roland Matthies, then vice president and treasurer, that brought them back to Springfield in January 1969 where Don would serve as Dr Matthies’ assistant. That is also where the “seeds were sown,” and the concept of estate planning and a love for fundraising took hold. Marty described Don as a “walking billboard for Wittenberg.”
Don retired as senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Sarasota, Florida, in 2002, and became the chaplain and advancement officer at Village on the Isle – a Continuing Care Retirement Center in Venice – where he still serves today. Marty was a certified financial planner prior to her 2005 retirement, an interest in estate planning inspired by Don’s early stories about Wittenberg benefactors.
All three Hillerich children – Bart ’87, Beth’89 and Brent ‘92 – graduated from Wittenberg, formally elevating campus as a bona fide family affair. Both Don and Marty – a 1995 Wittenberg honorary alumna – have served as ambassadors for Wittenberg in Florida through the years, and Don is an active emeritus member of the Board of Directors to this day.
Don and Marty are committed to preserving the Wittenberg experience for students, now and long into the future, by remembering the University in their estate plans.
“Wittenberg has been in our estate plans from day one, and it will consistently be so,” Don said. The Bart Andrew Hillerich Memorial Fund honors the memory of their oldest son and is just one way Don and Marty will continue to strengthen opportunities for students, faculty, and the campus at-large.
“Giving to Witt gives us a chance to help many people,” Marty added. “It really is passing the light and helping influence the future. We want to continue to be a light that shines for Wittenberg.”
And what a bright light it is.