We gather this morning to remember, celebrate and Thank God for the life of Don Hilligoss. Today we celebrate the way he touched our lives and the way God touched us through Him. As we do so we hope to help each other in our sadness and in our loss.
Our strength today comes from the Lord. Let me share comfort from His Word,
In Psalm 73 we read,
Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirt may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. [Psalm 73:25-28]
2 Cor. 5 (from the Message)
We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven–God-made, not handmade–and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move–and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead, He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.”
And then there is this wonderful picture of Heaven . . . .
Rev. 21:3,4 I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Will you pray with me?
Our Father, we come to you this morning.with hearts that are heavy. It seems like only weeks ago that we were left to mourn Bobbi’s death. And it was only days ago that Don’s smile and enthusiasm brightened our day. Lord we are numb from the suddenness of our loss. We know we are only beginning to grasp how significant a loss this is to us. Strengthen us in our time of sadness.
Father, as we grieve and mourn our loss . . . help us to also celebrate Don’s gain. Help us to rejoice at his faith and to draw comfort from his arrival at the place he always longed to be. Help us to remember the faith that filled Don’s life with your life. We ask these things in the name of Christ. Amen.
Donavon D. Hilligoss was born April 13, 1922 in New Boston Illinois to E. Clyde and M. Pearl Sutton Hilligoss. He graduated from Keithsburg, Illinois High School as the class Salutatorian. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. It was while he was in the Navy that he met Elizabeth J. “Bobbi” Roberts who was serving in the hospital navy corps. They met while they both served at the El Tora Naval Base in Santa Anna California.
They were brought together by friends and Don dragged his feet on asking this Navy girl out. He asked her out in 1945. They dated a couple of times before he asked her to marry him at Christmas and they were married three weeks later on January 12, 1946 in Laguna Beach, California.
Don loved to tell how the chaplain at the base kept telling them that a marriage between military personnel never worked out. After 54 years they proved themselves the exception to the rule. Bobbi was the one who was straightforward . . . she said what she was thinking. Don was the kind of person who was easy-going and much more subtle in his approach. The two made a good team. Don Hilligoss was a wonderful husband to his wife.
For many years Bobbi suffered a number of physical problems. He never complained (nor did she) and instead of moaning about what they had to bear he rejoiced in what they had to celebrate. After Don retired he would go to the Senior Center for lunch and then take lunch home for Bobbi. When she reached a point where she needed him a little more he came to the Senior Center and took both lunches home.
To this marriage was born four children. Barbara was born in California. Donna and Denny were born in Keithsburg. Steve was born in La Harpe where the Hilligosses made their home for the next 48 years.
Don worked at Champion Spark Plug in Burlington for 25 years, retiring in 1984. I remember at that time that Don told me he hoped he would be able to keep busy in his retirement and was eager to work at the church. Little did we know!
Don was a member of the LaHarpe American Legion Post #301, the LaHarpe Masonic Lodge #195, a member and past President of the Lion’s Club, the Blandinsville New Hope Lodge #263 Odd Fellows where he currently served as the Noble Grand and was also the District Deputy Grand Master of District 50 of the Odd Fellows. He served as a member of the Scholarship Committee for the Grand Lodge. He was a member of the Blandinsville Order of the Eastern Star. He was a member of the LaHarpe Park Board. He served in various capacities in the Midwest Association of Congregational Christian Churches and currently served as a member of the Executive Committee. He was completing his term as Moderator of the church (a post he held for most of his retirement) and had agreed to serve once again as a member of the Deacons of the church. During the 19 years I was at the church I believe Don was a member of some committee for 17-18 of those years. He took a year off once . . . and it drove him crazy!
In addition to all these things, Don was an avid Thunder Football and drove hours to see their games. He was also a huge supporter of anything his children and grandchildren were involved in.
Don died suddenly on Saturday, December 23, 2000.
He is survived by 2 daughters: Barbara Jean Blythe and her husband Michael of La Harpe and Donna Lee Wynn of Sioux City, Iowa. 2 sons, William Dennis Hilligoss and his wife Joanne of Stronghurst, Illinois and Steven Richard Hilligoss and his wife Kay of Good Hope, Illinois. He is also survived by nine Grandchildren:
Dawn Bucy and her husband Michael,
Donovan J. (D.J.) Wynn and his wife Kersten
Michelle Blythe and her fiancé Bret Powell
Don Hilligoss was a man who touched hundreds of lives and made them all better.
SOLO: HOW GREAT THOU ART
I must confess that the death of Don Hilligoss has rocked my world just like it has yours. For almost nineteen years Don has been a part of my congregation each Sunday. And for most of those years he sat generally in the same spot.
Don was our church Moderator. He had a wonderful way of leading our church. His gentle optimism made meetings more like a family gathering than a business session. He was quick to give people a playful hard time. He was always spotlighting the positive. He was a cheerleader for the church. But Don didn’t cheer from the sidelines.
In addition to serving on committees, He had played in the Bell Choir, He served as the worship Assistant every year at Easter and at Christmas. He taught Children’s Church, He was a substitute Sunday School teacher, He was one of the main cooks for the Men’s Breakfast and was instrumental in getting the men involved in cooking for the Mother and Daughter Banquet.
In fact one of my favorite memories was from the first time the men cooked for the Mother and Daughter Banquet. Don and I thought it would be great if the men did the cooking. So, Don, Dick Breuer and I decided we would peel I think it was close to 100 pounds of potatoes! What a good time we had that afternoon. Of course when we were done, our hands were stained for the next week! O . . . and the women only ate half the potatoes. After that year we got au gratin potatoes in a box!
Don and Howard Thie almost always cooked for our Men’s Breakfast. He would get up at 4:30 or 5:00 to cook breakfast for the hungry men. A little over a week ago he cooked us pancakes and sausage. It brought him joy to serve. And once . . . it brought the rest of us heartburn! Don had cooked biscuits and gravy and was “just a tad” generous with the pepper. As I looked around the table everyone was being polite and grabbing for juice and the plain biscuits and jelly to help douse the fire in their mouths and belly. Finally one of us (probably me) said, “Don, you were a little heavy with the pepper weren’t you?” He said, “Bob Mapes says you can never have too much pepper in Biscuits and Gravy. And Michael Butler said, “Bob Mapes was wrong!” Don laughed and we reminded Don of this occasion every time he cooked.
Don led this church through a building program, through the hiring of our Associate Ministers, and through the perilous minefield of deciding on a new carpet for the sanctuary. He grasped the sense of this church’s mission better than anyone. He was always willing to try something new and worked to eliminate barriers rather than erect them.
But as vital as Don was to our church, my sense of devastation does not come because of all the things he did for the church. My devastation comes because Don Hilligoss was one of my dearest friends. Two or three times a week Don would stop in the office just to chat. He was my sounding board. He was the one who lifted my spirits when I was discouraged. He was the one I could “vent” to. He knew when things were beginning to get to me before anyone could see it. We loved to give each other a hard time . . . whether it was from the pulpit or on the street corner. I admired Don Hilligoss. He always saw the positive and was always the first to extend a pat on the back. I loved his sly smile. I was proud to be his friend. I loved Don Hilligoss.
Jon Hart captured it well. Jon said, “Don was like the father of La Harpe”. It’s not that Don birthed the town . . . it was that he had a father’s heart and many of us related to him as a father figure in our lives. I’m sure this is true of people in the Lions, the Odd Fellows, the Tastee Freeze, the Church and in little pockets all around our community. There was a love, an acceptance, a wisdom, and a wonderfully gentle and joyful way about this man that made him a welcome sight anytime I saw him. And most of you would say the same.
As a father with his own children this dad was the “softy” in the family. Bobbi was the disciplinarian. When Don was disappointed with you you could tell because his chin quivered and it was the worst punishment any of the kids could know. (Incidentally, I noticed that his chin also quivered when he was speaking something deeply from his heart . . like expressing his appreciation and love.). Don was the one who always wanted to commute the sentence of his children. . . . but he was also a wise man. He knew that what mom said had to be the law.
Don and Bobbi loved to do things with their family. They took numerous camping trips to Colorado. They loved the time they had together. But they also worked hard. At one time Don worked two jobs and Bobbi worked as well. It was understood that rules were to be followed. Doing chores was a “given”. You got allowance for extra work. The Hilligoss home was a joyful place. They enjoyed their family trips to town to buy groceries. And some of the fondest memories was of the family plays, skits and musicals the kids put on for their parents. Don was a promise keeper before there were Promise Keepers.
The Hilligoss house was a home filled with laughter, simple pleasures and uncompromising love. This was a family that didn’t need a lot of extra amusements in their lives . . . they had each other. And with this great treasure they were among the richest families in town.
As a Grandfather he was very attentive. Don loved surprising the kids with presents. He was the one who did the Christmas shopping. He had great taste in the clothing he picked out for them . . . he seemed to know what was in style and what wasn’t. He loved it when he could spend special time with a grandchild. And each of these special moments was precious even if it was only a trip to town.
Don was always talking about his family. He talked about what a strong woman Barb was. He talked with pride about Donna’s teaching awards and her trips with students to Florida and Washington D.C., He marveled at Denny’s ability to be good at whatever he did. He brimmed with pride at Steve’s accomplishments in medicine. And I heard him scores of times say, “You know, they love Steve at the hospital”. In fact, I heard it so much I wanted to say, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” but a Father’s pride is not something you want to discourage.
But Don wasn’t just proud of his kids . . . he was proud of his grandchildren as well. He bragged about their achievements, their success and their character. I felt I knew Dawn and D.J. before I had ever met them because he talked so much about them. He approved of and loved their spouses. He knew what each grandchild was doing. He loved their spirit and their sense of humor. And he liked nothing better than spending time with them.
He was a man who was always early, always smiling and always excited to see his grandchildren. The kids were never an imposition with Grandpa. He and Grandma taught Emily how to country dance the “Boot Scootin’ Boogey”. He loved calling Sarah “shorty” as his tiniest Grandchild.
Don was the one everyone in the family went to when you had a problem. He was always calm and possessed a wisdom that would often surprise you. He had a wonderful knack of telling you what you should do . . . without telling you what you should do.
Don loved to country dance but you may not realize that he was a reluctant country dancer. Bobbi had to teach him how to dance in the garage before he would ever agree to dance in front of people. But once they got going he loved it. One of the highlights was being able to dance on the White Horse Inn on The Nashville Network.
Many people say that we become our parents as we get older. For most people it is a frightening thought. But for the Hilligoss clan . . .it would be the highest compliment you could give them.
I think one of the greatest indicators of Don’s character was the way he cared for his mother and for his wife. I used to love to go in and visit Minnie. She was always telling me what a good boy Don was and always referred to Bobbie as “his wife”. I loved telling Don that I heard that he was a “good boy” and he knew immediately who I had been talking to. The way he gave of himself to his mom and the way he helped, encouraged, supported and loved Bobbi spoke more than words. He left his children a rich heritage by his example.
Don was a wonderfully smart man. He had a tremendous sense of humor. I hate to admit it but some of the funniest things said in this sanctuary were said by Don! I loved when he was pulpit assistant because I knew that he was never going to pass up an opportunity to zing me. And he knew that I wouldn’t hesitate to return the favor. I don’t remember what Don said at the beginning of a worship service once . . . but he got me good. And somewhere during the message I was talking about the Shepherds and reflecting on what something would have been like . . . I looked at Don and said, “Don, you were friends with the Shepherds . . . how did they feel about this?” The congregation gasped . . . but Don tilted his head back and laughed hard. We were even.
Just a couple of weeks ago on December 7th Don began our worship service saying, “Please excuse me today, my sinuses have been acting up all week. I’ve had to put up with this for a week . . . I figure you can put up with it for an hour!” I never knew what he was going to say and I loved that about him.
We would ask the ushers to come forward on a Sunday morning and Don and Howard Thie I think deliberately walked as slow as they could coming up to the front while I stood their helpless holding these two plates. Don would hit the aisle and always start smiling . . . and I’d roll my eyes to say, “would you guys pick up the tempo, please!” It was our inside joke. Every once in a while (just to keep him on his toes) when he grabbed for the plate I’d pull it away from him. . . . or I’d hand it to him and wouldn’t let go. I always looked right at him until I caught his eye . . . and then we’d both grin.
When Denny and Joanne got married I assisted at the Lutheran Church in Stronghurst. I was told that it was traditional for the officiating clergy to wear robes. I didn’t have one so I asked the host Pastor if he had an extra robe. He did. It was a burlap kind of material, had a hood and rope belt. Imagine Friar Tuck! Here I was trying to be a good guy by wearing this stupid robe and as soon as I walked out for the wedding I thought Don was going to fall on the floor from laughing so hard.
The sacriest moment I ever had with Don was one Halloween. We took our kids over to his home and Don came to the door . . . without his teeth in!
What great and wonderful memories. Like most of you, I thought Don would live to be as old as his mother. I’m grateful for the influence of his life . . . . but I am not ready for that influence to cease.
I don’t want to paint Don as a perfect person. I’m sure he wasn’t. I know Bobbi seemed to have a list of things she wanted him to improve on! But from my perspective he was the ideal friend, co-worker, leader, neighbor.
I honestly don’t know how we will plug all the holes that Don filled. Last Sunday I realized that no one had enlisted ushers . . . Don did that. A couple of days ago my wife said, “Who is going to take down the Christmas decorations?” Every year Don agreed to do that thankless job. There are dozens of jobs like that that Don Hilligoss did around this church and around this community.; And I know that I will long for my office door to open and hear those familiar words, “How you doing, Bruce?” Don Hilligoss changed his world. He was a good man.
I want to draw your attention to a popular passage of Scripture.
Psa 91:1-4 (NIV) He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely he will save you from hidden traps and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
DON HAD A RARE FAITH
The Psalmist tells us that He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” of this verse Charles Spurgeon wrote,
The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off. [Treasury of David]
Spurgeon drew attention to the fact that though many people are believers, not many really understand what it means to rest in the shadow of the Almighty. We might stop and pass through that shelter of the most High but few seem to dwell there.
Don Hilligoss, to me, was a man who had learned to dwell in the shelter of the Most High. He was a man of consistent faith and uncommon character. Don was a man who felt comfortable praying to God, talking about God and serving God. My guess is that his last words were a prayer to the Lord.
Don talked a great deal about Bobbi’s faith . . . but his faith was just as strong. I have loved watching him grow in his faith. Whenever we were approaching a budget for a new year, Don’s sentiment was simple, “let’s budget wisely and the Lord will provide.” It was simple but it wasn’t trite when Don said it . . . it was what He believed. He believed that if you gave your tithe to the Lord, God would take care of your needs.
Don continued to dwell in the shadow of the Almighty even after Bobbi died in February. He admitted that there were lonely times . . . especially drinking coffee in the morning and late at night. But then he would immediately follow that up with “but I sure have a lot to be thankful for.”
Just last Tuesday we had a chance to visit for awhile. I knew Bobbi’s birthday was coming and so I asked him how he was doing. He said He was doing o.k. He admitted that he really missed Bobbi but he knew where she was and knew that some day he was going to see her again. He told me about their first Christmas. Bobbi sent him out to get a small tree for their apartment. When he got home he had to cut off part of the tree to get it in the door! He threw his head back like he always did and we had a good laugh together. He told me that this Christmas would be hard but he would get through it. He was looking forward to seeing everyone and to helping everyone else get through this time.
He was the steadiest man I ever met. His faith remained solid no matter what the outward circumstances. Nothing seemed to shake Him . . . He was resting in the shadow of the Almighty.
DON HAD A FRUITFUL FAITH
The Psalmist says,
he will save you from hidden traps and from the deadly pestilence.
I don’t think the Psalmist is just talking about physical problems (though Don was remarkably healthy). God saved Him Don from a number of hidden traps ,
He saved him from the trap of discouragement. Don was a wonderfully optimistic man. He saw the positive in everything. The only time I saw him even a little discouraged was a time when he saw me discouraged and he shared my pain. Don saw the possibilities rather than the liabilities, he celebrated the goals that were reached rather than dwell on the ones that were missed. Don rested in the Providence of God. He would tell you that things happen for a reason . . . God doesn’t make mistakes.
God saved Don from the trap of gossip. Don didn’t talk about other people. He was candid with me about many people but never was he unkind. The worst I ever heard him say about someone was, “they are pretty impressed with themselves.” Don saw potential. He gave the benefit of the doubt. He was always confident that a person would grow and develop. I learned allot from Don.
God saved Don from the trap of anger. I never saw him angry. Don didn’t waste time with anger. He could have been bitter when people kept making demands on him, but he would shrug and say, “What else do I have to do?”
God saved Don from the trap of laziness. As you heard, there is a whole list of organizations that Don was a part of. He was always there to help. At Summerfest you would see him selling tickets, dipping ice cream, serving at Lion’s supper and more. He seemed like he was everywhere.
I always got a kick out of Don. Whenever he stopped by the office I knew he wouldn’t stay too long. He always had to “get down the street”. I wasn’t sure whether he was going to deliver meals, visit at the Barber Shop, stop to chat with Barry, head to an activity of one of the Grand kids or any number of other things he did on a regular basis.
And the best thing about it all . . . Don was enjoying every minute. He never complained about being too busy. He never said he wished people would leave him alone. He served with gladness.
DON HAD AN ETERNAL FAITH
One more section I want you to see in this Psalm. In verse four we read,
He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.
The thing that keeps me going in this tough time is the fact that I know where Don Hilligoss is today. He is with the Lord. This is not a guess, or a hunch . . . it is a certainty. Don Hilligoss is where he always wanted to be. He is with Jesus. Several times several of us have heard Don say, “I’m not eager to die but I’m ready to die . . . I know where I’m going. He was confident that Bobbi was in Heaven and he knew that’s where he was headed too.
Over the years I had a lot of time to talk to Don about his faith. Don understood that he was a sinner in need of grace. He knew that Christ died for him. He knew that his eternal destiny depended not on how he served, but on who he trusted. Don Hilligoss is not in Heaven today because he was a great man. He is not in heaven because he was a religious man. He is in Heaven because he placed all his confidence and trust in Christ.
There is life beyond the grave and that life in in Jesus Christ. Christ died in your place and mine. He rose from the dead to prove that he was who he said he was. And He extends his invitation to any who will trust him . . . no matter what your background . . . he invites you to know this life as well. The Bible tells us we must believe. But this belief is more than mental assent to certain facts. Belief is really resting on the truth that your eternal life is guaranteed if you place your confidence on Christ.
Do you know the God Don Hilligoss trusted? If you don’t, you can. All you need to do is open your life to God’s promise . . . you must claim it as your own. If you will make your faith sure, I can guarantee that you will see Don Hilligoss again. Please don’t put off getting right with God. We never know when our last day will come.
We feel a great loss today but the loss is not Don’s loss . . . it is ours. Our lives have an empty spot. Don Hilligoss walks, dances, rejoices in glory. I know Don’s heart. He would be concerned for his family. He would have wanted to hear what was going on in everyone’s life. But he would also tell you that he got the greatest Christmas present he could have ever imagined. Yes, he got to be with Bobbi . . . but the greatest part of the gift was that they both are with Jesus. Now they see clearly. And though it is hard to believe, Don has a bigger smile on his face than normal. And I have to think that Don is telling everyone he sees about his kids, his grand kids and about the neat things happening at the Union Church.
In closing let me give you my list of things I learned from Don Hilligoss . . . I hope it will provoke you to gratitude as it does me.
- Warmth opens people up, aggressiveness shuts them down
- Positive people bring joy, negative people steal it
- There is potential in everyone
- Viewing life’s demands as obligations wears you down . . . viewing them as opportunities before the Lord brings you energy, life, and the sweet contentment of serving well.
- There is good in every situation
- We choose whether we will focus on the positive or the negative . . . whether we will be joyful or grumpy.
- There is not much worth getting angry over. It doesn’t help anything and just ruins your day.
- Sometimes the best way to get to the best result is to be patient
- Everyone makes mistakes . . . and everyone appreciates it when we don’t rub their face in those mistakes but instead extend a hand to help them begin again.
- Laughter can change anyone’s day . . . a smile in infectious. It’s always a good idea to have a little fun
- Those who take time to appreciate others find that they also appreciate life more.
- Mature faith is steady rather than erratic.
- Living every day for the Lord is always a good investment of our time and resources
- If we trust God even when we don’t understand, we will always find him faithful. He may not give us answers but He will give us strength.
- It is a cherished blessing to know remarkable people . . . but it also hurts when we part.
IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL
Our Father, we thank you for the life of Don Hilligoss. We thank you that it is well with his soul. We ask that you welcome him warmly into the Kingdom that has been prepared for Him
We thank you for the difference Don made in our life. He reflected your love and for that we will always be grateful.
I pray now that you help us. Give strength to this family. You know their loss is great. They are weary from grief. Help them to draw strength from each other . . . but even more, help them to draw strength from you. Comfort them in their loss.
Help us to remember Don’s smiling face, his warm heart, his positive outlook, and his genuine faith. Spur us on by his example. Help us to serve you, trust you, and enjoy you as He did. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.