Charles Hilger

Charles Noel "Chuck" Hilger

1938 - 2020

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Obituary of Charles Noel Hilger

Chuck Hilger, beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother, passed away peacefully at home with his wife and family. His life began in Lakin, Kansas, on the family farm. He was the oldest child of seven children, mother Helen Elizabeth Heiland Hilger and father Benjamin Hilger. While a youngster he attended a one-room elementary school, all the while assisting his father in the farming operation. Before he was a teen, he was single-handedly operating heavy duty farming equipment and supervising the crews that came at harvest time. Graduating from Lakin High School in 1956, Chuck enrolled in the ROTC program, thereby enabling him to attend Wichita State University, graduating in 1962 with a degree in American History. Upon graduation, he married Kay Clark and together they moved to his first posting in Germany. His next deployment was Vietnam, where he saw combat and received the Bronze Star. He was honorably discharged as a Major in the U.S. Army in 1970. His impressive art career began in California. With his two young sons, Eric and Todd, he lived in the Los Angeles area before moving to Santa Cruz in 1972, where he and his second wife, Mary Nelson, established a home for their four children. He continued his education earning a Masters Degree in Studio Art in 1976. As one of the pioneers of the cast paper art movement out of the Institute of Experimental Printmaking, he not only exhibited internationally but invented a cast paper vacuum system used throughout the world. His artworks are collected in art museums, galleries and private collections across the United States and Japan. Chuck was named Artist of the Year by the Santa Cruz County Arts Commission in 1989. In 1983, While serving as a trustee of the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, he was hired as the Director of the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Chuck led the community effort to raise the funds and build the present McPherson Center for Art and History, which opened in 1993. After a merger with the History Museum, he became the Founding Director of the newly created MAH where he worked closely with then Curator Kathleen Moodie, presenting exceptional art and history experiences to the Monterey Bay Region. One of his proudest achievements was the creation of the “Art Box,” a traveling museum on wheels driven to elementary schools and migrant labor camps throughout Santa Cruz County after the 1989 earthquake. His experience as an artist and arts administrator led to his 20 year involvement with the Santa Cruz County Community Foundation’s Rydell Visual Arts Fund. He retired after 20 years of devoted leadership of MAH. At the time of his retirement, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors honored Chuck with a County Proclamation; the City of Santa Cruz named June 1, 2003 as “Charles N. Hilger Day” and Representative Sam Farr entered his name as an Honor into the U.S. Congressional Record on May 22, 2003. In December of 2003, he became the Founding Director of Santa Cruz County Habitat for Humanity, growing the organization from building one house per year to a four house annual production before his final retirement in 2007. He and Kathleen continued working and enjoying life together and were married in 2008. Chuck was many things to his friends and family: an inspired chef with a file folder full of collected recipes; a yearly subscriber to the Cabrillo Music Festival, the Santa Cruz Symphony, and Jewel Theater; an intrepid traveler with Kathleen as navigator; a generous friend with lively nights at the Tea Cup Restaurant, the Poet and Patriot Pub, Sea Cloud Bar and Restaurant and Kathleen and Chuck’s favorite - Friday night gatherings at Clouds (now Mosaic). But above all he was a hugely proud grandfather who leaves behind his love of life in each of his five grandchildren. Chuck was a force of nature, tall in stature and towering in his accomplishments. He is survived by his wife Kathleen; son Eric (Haley) grandsons, Aidan and Theo; son Todd (Cynthia) grandchildren Jessica, Joshua and Nico; his stepchildren Matthew Smith and Paula Smith; sisters Judy Bloyd and Kathy Wellington; brothers Jerry Hilger and Carl Hilger; Kathleen’s Santa Cruz family Kenneth Moodie (Ami), grandsons Calvin Moodie, John Porter, Jacob Porter and her sister Kris Beall. Chuck was predeceased by his sisters, Mary Hilger and Jodi Stewart. The family is forever grateful to his amazing medical team: Dr. Holly Moore, Dr. Eunice Kim, Dr. Prachi Jog, Dr. Willam Morris and his special VNA nurse Christina Carranco. A Celebration of Life will be held at a future date when a gathering of family and friends can be safely scheduled. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to any of the organizations mentioned above.
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