Contributor: Sue H Created : 4 years ago Updated : 4 years ago
Recollections of Eugene Hilton on Father’s Day June 15, 2008
Many of these impressions began forming over forty years ago. They’ve settled on my soul making a deep and lasting influence on the definition and understanding of who I am. Some remembrances of this great man come from stories I’ve heard about him, but nevertheless they’ve blessed and benefitted me, especially when I consider that he is my grandpa.
Grandpa was a mighty man. “Mighty” in this context doesn’t refer necessarily to physical strength as much as it does to the awe one felt when in his presence. Like a mighty oak, his strength was felt in quiet, stable ways. As the oak lends itself to supporting weaker things, and standing strong through every challenge, so Grandpa was. Like the oak, Grandpa’s strength gave protection that comforted without stifling.
Memories of a younger Opa (we learned to call him “Opa” the German term of endearment for Grandpa) fail me; by the time I had any memory, age had turned that shock of thick hair to the seasoned grey of the wise. His hair was a distinguished grey, and partnered with his mustache, made him a very handsome man. The rather bushy eyebrows and penetrating, brown eyes are characteristics shared by many of his descendants.
Grandpa navigated through life with only one seeing eye. At age 4, he lost the use of one of those treasured lights to our souls. As the story goes, he was chipping wood from a log at the family homestead in Virgin, Utah. A small splinter pierced his eye, blinding it. This was at a time before antibiotics, or highly skilled medical advances that otherwise may have saved his sight. One wonders how much pain he must have endured, and whether serious infection set in.
Why Virgin Utah? Following the command of the Prophet his father had settled in this remote, dry corner of creation. There life was scratched from surface of desert rock and sand. Nothing was near. It is so difficult to imagine a time without cars, freeways, and billboards. It isn’t hard to imagine, though, how such a beginning could shape a character like Opa’s. He was born November 12, 1889, the fourth of eleven children. As I recall, his father was polygamist, and Grandpa had “two mothers”.
From humble Virgin, Opa was called on a mission to the Eastern States. He was a faithful leader in Zion long before there was an MTC, discussions, and a regimen to follow. Before his mission he had received only a limited education, it may be stretching a bit to say it was the equivalent of eighth grade. He served with devotion not only during his mission, but all of his life. How do I know? Just because of the example he set and the manner in which he interacted with his fellowman. Also, look at the wonderful children he raised!
At the end of his mission he was serving as the District President. He had responsibilities over Ruth Naomi Savage, a sister missionary, from Snowflake, Arizona. Little is known about the sparks that must have ignited at that time, but what is known is that Opa waited for Ruth to finish her mission, and they married in the Saint George Temple in 1916. He was a devoted father, and husband, enjoying the companionship of his beloved Ruth for over fifty years.
Fathering seven stair-step sons, and one daughter, Opa has become the progenitor of many. With seven sons, just think of our second-generation family reunions, with 54 first-cousins, most of whom shared the last name Hilton! It has long been a challenge to recite the names of Omie and Opa’s 8 children faster than anyone else—“Gene, Joe, Phil, Ted, Lynn, John, Bud, Pat”. As I was growing up it was easy for me to take for granted such a large, connected family, because I didn’t know anything else. However, now when speaking to others, and saying that I have 54 first-cousins, most of whom I know by name and sight, I get reactions of marvel. Most people don’t enjoy such a blessing, but I have come to recognize and rejoice that I have that blessing.
When their young family had five sons (number five being our beloved dad) Omie and Opa set out from Thatcher, Arizona on a venture that settled them in the Bay Area. Can you imagine uprooting a brood of so many, stuffing them, and all they owned into a what? A 1924 Model “T”? And driving on washboard bumpy strips of cleared land (hardly called roads) to the renowned pinnacle of higher education: University of California at Berkeley? It boggles one’s mind to consider the challenge of pursuing a Doctorate in Education, but what a difference it made for Grandpa, Grandma, and the many generations that have followed! The thirst for knowledge and to improve one’s circumstances by gaining understanding drove this quest. Thereafter, Opa was able to spread his influence much further to the many that he came into contact with and served.
A delightful vignette of the Thatcher to Berkeley odyssey comes to mind that captures the love, compassion, and character of Opa. Off to the side of the road was a young woman who had run into some difficulties with her own travels. Opa seeing her dismay said “Lady in distress, can we be of service?” Already filled to the brim of their car, they managed to allow this woman to ride on the running board of the car. She did so for several miles, clinging to the side of the vehicle while standing up. Keep in mind, the possible speed was only about 20 mph. Today, would the world be a more wonderful place, if more acts of kindness were extended in such a manner?
Most of the sons remained in Bay Area. Our father was one who left the “nest” to settle in Utah. For that reason our contacts with Omie and Opa were not as frequent, but nevertheless left me with a lasting impression. Each visit they made to Utah allowed us to enjoy his humor, and wisdom. Omie, afflicted with debilitating arthritis, generally would greet us, and then retire to a bedroom where she would remain until she left for home again. I remember several of these visits. In turn, in seems almost every year, we would make a trip to California where we would get to associate with aunts, uncles, cousins, and of course, Omie and Opa.
For my 13th birthday I requested a trip to Oakland to have a Patriarchal Blessing pronounced upon my head by my Grandpa. This was an eventful journey—my first airplane ride. Polly and I flew to Oakland, where Opa picked us up and took us to their home on Monterey Blvd, close to the Oakland Temple. By this time, Omie was bed-ridden and required much care. I remember her asking Opa to “turn her”. This is a task that he performed many times a day, I’m sure. She was in such pain that she would hold her arms over her head, and allow Opa to shift her position so that she didn’t develop bedsores. The pain was obvious because of the grimaces that crossed her face and the moans that escaped her tongue. Also, on that trip, Opa showed Polly and me his vegetable garden that he tended with great care—telling us that he grew 27 varieties of vegetables! Our Dad joined us in Oakland several days later and was there for the pronouncement of my Patriarchal Blessing. Having Grandpa give me the blessing was a great joy. I’ve read it many times since, seeking for the comfort and guidance it provides. It promises wonderful things, some of which I have yet to realize… but, some of which have truly come to pass. One great promise that I have realized was that I would be blessed to have some of “God’s choicest children”. My four beautiful daughters have fulfilled this promise to me.
What has prompted me to record these feelings at this time is the choice experience I’ve recently had of visiting again the Oakland Temple. Opa’s vision and fortitude paved the way for that marvelous edifice to stand this day as a bastion of relief to the weary, and tried. Opa was serving as the Stake President of the Oakland Stake. The nearest temple was in Salt Lake, which of course made it difficult for members to obtain their endowments, and to perform temple service for the dead. He worked with the General Authorities in Salt Lake and found a piece of land with an unsurpassed vista of the surrounding area. It stands as a marker of great distinction; the grounds are peaceful and inviting. On my flight to the Bay Area I sat next to a pilot who told me that the Oakland Temple served for many years as a geographic point of reference, and had been part of many flight calculations. On the grounds is also a Stake Center where we attended Omie and Opa’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, and where several years later, we attended Omie’s funeral. There is a Visitors Center on the grounds, as well. Knowing intimately of the origins of that temple and the involvement of Opa makes it a very special place for me. As I went through a session, I couldn’t help but recall all the latter-day blessings that have been realized because of his foresight, and commitment to building the Kingdom of God on the Earth. Thousands of couples have been married there, and millions of endowments have been received. Indeed, many of the 54 grandchildren had the opportunity to be sealed to their spouses by Opa in this temple.
One remarkable experience that happened to Opa in the Oakland Temple needs to be mentioned. He had been diligent in doing temple work for his ancestors. A certain Henry Hilton was one ancestor whose identifying information had evaded him for years. While performing the temple work for Henry’s family, Henry appeared to him in the temple. The communication from the other side of the veil was to make upon him such an impression that he immediately acted upon the knowledge gained. He learned that his own life had been extended upon the earth so that Henry’s work could be done. He learned that Henry had survived to adulthood, had married, and had children. Prior to this time, sufficient information had not been found because an older child of the same family, also named Henry, had died as an infant. The mix up of names had caused the younger Henry to be overlooked in genealogical research. This experience gave Opa the motivation and drive to find Henry’s records and to follow through with identifying a family and children to seal to him. Opa recorded this experience for posterity; I encourage all to read it.
I am so thankful to have Eugene Hilton as my grandfather; to me he has been a point-of-light, a guide through the darkness, as I make my own mortal journey. And, as the acorn falls not far from the tree, so has my own father been of the greatest blessings one could ever hope for.
A Brief Life Sketch of Eugene Hilton by Ronald Nathan Hilton
Contributor: Sue H Created : 4 years ago Updated : 4 years ago
Eugene Hilton was born November 12, 1889 in Virgin, Utah near present-day Zion National Park. One early memory was of climbing to reach something on a high shelf in the kitchen, when he was startled to see an Indian squaw at the cabin door! He screamed bloody murder, but his mother came in laughing and said it served him right as she offered the woman a sack of flour. The family moved to Abraham, Utah, where he remembers seeing his first automobile and motion picture. He worked hard on the family farm, where he lost the sight in one eye from a stray chip of wood as he was chopping logs. His life was miraculously preserved when he fell through the ice while skating, finding himself back on shore with no memory of how he got there. He left for full time missionary service to New England in June of 1912. It was there that he first met his future wife, Ruth Savage, one of the first sisters to serve in the mission. She met him at the train station in Salt Lake City upon his return, and a courtship ensued, leading to their marriage in the Saint George Temple on September 28, 1916. After his mission he completed high school, college at BYU, and then a doctoral degree in Education at the University of California at Berkeley. He became the Superintendent of Schools in Oakland, California, where they raised their family. He received a prestigious award of $4000 for his social studies textbooks entitled “Problems and Values of Today.” He served as president of the Oakland Stake for 12 years, and was instrumental in securing the property for the Oakland Temple. He was later ordained as Stake Patriarch and served as a sealer in the temple. He and Ruth served a full time mission in England as a senior couple. A highlight was their meeting with Church president David O. McKay who gave him a special assignment to give Patriarchal blessings throughout the British mission. Family history and genealogy was also a life-long pursuit, including visitations from departed ancestors who guided his efforts. Affectionately known as “Opah” by his descendants, he successfully completed his second estate here on earth, passing away on August 24, 1982.