O. Donald Hill

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BROWNSVILLE, Tex. – Oscar Donald “O. Donald or O.D.” Hill passed away peacefully at the age of 97 on July 1, 2021, at his winter home in Brownsville, Tex.  Born on May 5, 1924, O. Donald was the youngest of six children born into the family of Oscar C. and Olive (Ravnaas) Hill, a second-generation Norwegian-American farm family.

Although his father passed away while O.D. was still a boy, he was fortunate to have a strong, capable mother and five older, hard-working brothers and sisters to help raise him. O.D. graduated from Rochelle High School as the salutatorian of the class of 1942.

After World War II cut short his freshman year at the University of Illinois, O.D. returned home to help manage the family farm. In 1946, O.D. met Mary Wagner of Ashton and on Sept. 4, 1948, they were married at the Ashton Methodist Church. For their honeymoon, Mary and O.D. drove a snappy 1946 Ford two-door sedan to Madison, Wis. On the way home, they toured southwest Wisconsin visiting House on the Rock, Cave of the Mounds and Little Norway. These places held a special spot in their hearts, and they revisited them many times during their 68 years of marriage.

Mary and O.D.’s newlywed house was on Woodlawn Road, one mile south of Creston, where they lived directly across from his mother, Olive Hill, and the farm where O.D. had grown up.

In the early 1950s, O.D. and Mary bought 100 acres on Reynolds Road, south of Ashton, just across from Mary’s parents farm where she had grown up. It was on this farm that O.D. and Mary settled down and raised their family of four children.

During the next 50 years, O. Donald would expand his farming operation to become one of the premier tomato growers in Illinois for Campbell’s Soup Company in the 1960s and one of the largest seed corn growers in Illinois for Funk’s Seed Co in the 1970s.

This was a time-gone-by era where small family farms dotted the rural landscape and everything you needed to buy, from tractors to automobiles, could be found locally in Ashton or Rochelle.

Many middle school and high school kids earned spending money every summer from O.D. by picking, washing and packing tomatoes; hoeing weeds out of the bean fields and detasseling seed corn.

Each fall, a regular group of local ladies would join Mary to work the seed corn sorters set up by the farm buildings as O.D. and the men operated the corn pickers. Throughout his farming career, O.D. held a life-long commitment to J.I. Case tractors, Ford pickup trucks, Lincoln Continentals, the Democratic Party and the Chicago Cubs and Bears.

Donald was an active community member serving on the Ashton School Board when the new high school was planned and built. In addition, he was very involved for decades with St. John’s Lutheran Church where he served as President of the Congregation and taught the adult Sunday School class.

A long-time member of Shady Oaks Country Club, O.D. was passionate about playing golf, which he did well into his 90s having shot an 18-hole score under his age.

Over the cold winter months during his farming years, O.D. was a dedicated card player at the grain elevator and local taps in Ashton playing bridge, pinochle, and euchre. Once retired in Winter Haven, O.D. continued to play cards competitively up until the very end of his life.

O.D. and Mary were avid travelers who provided educational experiences for the whole family since most trips involved visiting at least 2-3 museums. In their later years, Mary and O.D. spent several winters in Dauphin Island, Alabama and, for the last 20 years, in the Winter Haven resort retirement community in Brownsville, Texas.

These were fun spots for the grandkids to visit which always meant several trips to the beach with Grandma and a chance to play golf with Grandpa. It was at his home in Winter Haven where O.D. passed his final moments before rejoining Mary, who he missed every day.

O.D. is survived by his daughter Suzanne (Hill) Royer of Sycamore, his sons John Hill (Florenda) of Rockford, James Hill (Susan) of Hastings, Minnesota and Joel Hill (Donna) of Dallas, Texas; 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

O.D. was preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Mary, his parents, his in-laws, his brothers and sisters-in-law Orson and Ellen Hill, Arvene and Muriel Hill and Carl and Marie Hill, and his sisters and brothers-in-laws Anna and Clifford Ohlinger and Ruth and Edward Cornils. 

The passing of O.D. brings an end to a family generation which spanned 108 years over which time they remained close throughout. They lived lengthy and fulfilling lives which enriched and inspired those around them. O. Donald’s legacy continues within his children and grandchildren.

Friends and family are invited to join O. Donald’s family for a celebration of life ceremony between 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23 at Kennay Farms Distilling in downtown Rochelle.