Hilgers celebrates 105 years

FAIRMONT – Bob Hilgers was born April 1, 1909, in Mankato, the fifth in a family of four girls. His father couldn’t wait to share with his friends that he finally had a baby boy.

“Nobody believed him. They thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” said Patricia Morrow, retelling the tale she and other family members have heard countless times from Bob.

Tuesday was a day filled with such stories as family and friends celebrated Bob’s 105th birthday at Lutz Wing nursing home in Fairmont. At the center of attention was Bob, graciously greeting guests, visiting with grandchildren and wooing great-grandchildren.

“They’re only 104 1/2 years apart,” quipped Page Hilgers, as her father-in-law chatted good-naturedly with his great-granddaughter Liesel Condon, whose end of the conversation was limited to an animated “Hi!”

When Bob’s granddaughter Teresa Hilgers leaned in to wish him a happy birthday and ask him how he’s doing, her grandfather smiled, giving a response indicative of his positive outlook on life: “I’m well taken care of, I don’t have anything like cancer, I’m still in good health. What more could I ask for?”

Bob has aged, of course, in the five years since the Sentinel interviewed him for his 100th birthday. His hearing isn’t what it was, nor his vision, but a certain decline in health is to be expected, said his eldest son, Dr. Bob Hilgers.

“But the reality is he has not been sick in five years, not once,” said Jack Hilgers, the second of three sons.

While he once regularly walked the halls to visit with staff, volunteers and fellow residents, Bob now wheels himself around to get where he needs to go. He fell and broke his hip on his 102nd birthday, but he has remained mobile and ever-cheerful.

“He’s still got an incredible attitude,” said Jack. “He never complains – never complains. That glass is always half-full.”

Bob has been a resident at Lutz Wing since 2005. He admitted himself two years after his wife, Ann, passed away. Every time he talks to Jack on the phone, which is about several times a week, Bob is sure to say how glad he is to be living there.

Bob and Ann moved to Fairmont in 1947. They had three sons: Bob, Jack and Tom, who are now 78, 74, and 70, respectively. The couple met while Bob was teaching at his alma mater, St. Thomas College, and the Military Academy in St. Paul.

On Tuesday, a woman from St. Thomas University’s alumni office visited Fairmont to interview Bob, who is currently the school’s oldest alumnus in the world.

In Fairmont, Bob worked as district manager of quality control at Stokely-Van Camp for 24 years, until his retirement in 1974.

“It is his positive attitude more than anything that will be part of his legacy. It’s something he’s passed on to his three sons,” his eldest son said in the 2009 interview with the Sentinel.