Cover photo for Kenneth Hilberg's Obituary
Kenneth Hilberg Profile Photo
1927 Kenneth 2015

Kenneth Hilberg

October 11, 1927 — June 16, 2015

Kenneth Floyd Hillberg was born October 11,1927 in rural Chancellor, South Dakota. He passed away peacefully June 16, 2015 after suffering multiple strokes at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. He passed surrounded by his loving family. Kenneth was the 4th child born of 11 children to Hjalmer and Clara (Biel) Hillberg. Family lore speaks of the unseasonably early blizzard that took place the night he was born. Clara his mother, with the assistance of her sister, Elsie labored at home waiting for the arrival of the local doctor. His father, Hjalmer left a lantern in the window and one on a windmill to help the doctor locate their home. The doctor never made it for the birth but did arrive in time to cut the cord. Clara would say later that her sister Elsie was fit to be tied with anxiety. The Hillberg family moved to Roberts County shortly there after. In the following years, Kennys family grew to include 7 more siblings. During that time, Kenneth acquired the nickname Knute. The thought was that it was easier for the younger siblings to say than Kenneth. Knute attended a country school called Liberty Bell in Easter Township that housed all grades in one room with only one teacher. He and his siblings walked to and from school (about a mile) during all weather conditions. Chores consisted of pumping water from a hand dug well, herding and milking cows, cleaning the barn and watering the garden, in addition to the livestock. When Knute was about 6 or 7 years old, his mother was nursing one of his younger siblings. She placed a glass of breast milk on the kitchen table and left the room. Upon entering the kitchen and spying the full glass of milk, he asked older sister Vera if he could drink it. As any person with a younger brother or sister can attest, this was a prank that couldnt be passed up. Later, Knute would remark that Vera scarred him for life by allowing him to drink it. That being said, he was close to his family and customary to large families, he helped a great deal in caring for his younger siblings. His family was poor and struggled to create a life in the harsh environment of the Dakotas. The Dirty 30s and the Great Depression formed Knute into a man known for commonsense and thriftiness. Often, he spoke of the drought in the region and the impact it had on him, his family and the nation. Upon entering high school in Sisseton, Knute broadened his social circle. He enjoyed varsity track and football, intramurals and the Lettermans Club. He was a member and secretary of the S club and voted Quite a Guy by his peers. He dated a girl throughout high school named Dwyla that he was very fond of. Interestingly, they reconnected later in life after he divorced and her husband passed away. His love of music prompted him to join a group called the Harold Johnson band in which he was a drummer. He spoke of running late for a gig once and driving over 100 mph on gravel roads to reach a performance. After graduation in 1946, he followed in the footsteps of his older brothers Virgil and Leonard in pursuing a path in the military. It would end up being a period of time in Knutes life that he was most proud of. He enlisted in September 1946 when he was 19 years old. For a young man, used to living on the desolate prairie, it was an exciting adventure. After basic training, he was initially assigned as an office clerk and sent to Yamoto, Honshu, Japan. While there, he attended the Airborne Training Center learning to fly and parachute. He eventually became a licensed pilot and jumpmaster. It was a passion he would enjoy for the rest of his life. Knute spent about 10 years in the military, enlisting a total of 3 times. He served during World War II and felt privileged by his time spent abroad. He was a humble man so many didnt know he received several medals such as Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the Japan Occupied Medal. By the time of his honorable discharge in 1960, he had attained the rank of Corporal in the 11th Airborne Battle Group of the 502nd Infantry. While stationed in Augsberg Germany in 1957, Knute met a young woman named Viktoria (Doris) Riedel. Following a brief courtship, they married July 20,1957. They settled on a farm that Knute had purchased after his first discharge from the Army in about 1951. It had a small one-bedroom home with an outhouse on it. They raised chickens, a few cows and sheep and farmed the land. In the fall of 1961, their only child, Norman was born. He was a proud father and loved his son very much. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last, but over the course of years, he maintained a close and loving relationship with his son. He taught and inspired in him the love of aviation, so much that later they jointly owned a Cessna airplane together. He taught his son to parachute, a daring hobby that most parents would be horrified to encourage. He was so proud that Norm held a record for being the youngest skydiver in Alexandria, Minnesota at the age of 16. They spent many hours flying and skydiving together. Knute participated in many exhibition jumps for small town festivals and events. At the age of 50, when most people are beginning to wind down, Knute began running. Perhaps it was due to his background in high school track, or his physical training in the military, but he threw himself in his new hobby. He traveled many places in the region, competing in 5k and 10k races receiving numerous ribbons and trophies for his efforts. His son accompanied him and often they could be found discussing upcoming races, comparing times and training strategies. Knute experienced another event that most folks would find interesting. A neighbor stopped asking for help with his wife that was in labor. Knute thought he was to drive the car for the father to be, but instead was put in the back seat with the laboring woman. There, in the car, racing to the hospital, Knute helped deliver a baby. Later he would joke that he should be called Doctor Hillberg. During the 60s, after purchasing his farm, Knute began planting apple trees. He created a large orchard behind his home. Over the years, he provided many people with the fruits of his labor. Every fall, he made plans for harvesting his apples and many friends, family and neighbors joined to make fresh apple cider and pick his apples. He loved his apples and anyone who visited him wound up with a sackful of apples and a jug of cider when they left. Knute leaves behind his son Norm and wife Sheryl of Sioux Falls, grandson Ethan, and granddaughter Chloe of Brookings, SD in addition, siblings Vera, Blanche, Helen, Raymond and Donald Hillberg. Numerous nieces, nephews, extended family and friends are included. His parents Hjalmar and Clara Hillberg, his siblings, Agnes, Clayton, Leonard, Virgil, Violet and his former wife Doris Hillberg, precede him in death.
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