BY AILA HILLBERG
Family and friends of Carl Hillberg will be gathering on Sept. 25 to celebrate with him, on the occasion, of his 100th birthday. His Swedish immigrant parents arrived in Turlock in 1918 to begin their American adventure. Carl, their second child and only son, was born in 1922 at the original Emanuel Hospital that was located on Canal Drive. He grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Turlock and helped his father with farming and his mother with her egg business. Carl was adventurous and independent. One time, a favorite older cousin who lived in Denair invited him to come out for a visit. So, he hopped on his bike and pedaled from the family farm on Golf Road all the way out to Denair. Of course, the cousin thoughtfully put his bike in the back of his car when it was time to go home and drove him back.
Carl enjoyed music and played the trumpet in the Turlock High band along with his good friend, Rex Anderson. As band members, they were encouraged to go door-to-door selling subscriptions to the new “Community Concert Series” that was coming to Turlock in 1940. The Community Concert Series was a mainstay of the cultural life of Turlock for decades. Carl generously supported the Community Concert Association in later years and attended their last concert in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended their presence in Turlock. He was also an excellent student, and particularly excelled at math. Carl had a math teacher at Turlock High, Bill Garlough, who left teaching to open an accounting business. Bill told Carl to come back to Turlock when he finished his schooling, and that he would have a job in his accounting firm.
Following high school, Carl attended Modesto Junior College. While there, he became good friends with a fellow math student from Livingston, Ben Hashimoto. Sadly, Ben was interned in a camp in Merced before being sent to Colorado. Carl faithfully visited Ben in the camp while he was still in Merced. Ben and Carl reconnected after they both returned to the area and have maintained an 80-year friendship, enjoying many family dinners and get-togethers throughout the years.
Carl graduated with an AA degree in accounting in the spring of 1942. That fall, he had begun his first semester at Cal Berkeley when he was drafted into the US Army. Because of his accounting degree, he was sent to assist in managing supply logistics for the China Burma India theater of WWII and was stationed in India. Following the war, he was able to complete his Bachelor’s Degree at Cal and returned to Turlock to work for his former math teacher, Bill Garlough.
In 1950, Carl married Merlyn Miner, who also graduated from Turlock High. Because she was six years younger than Carl, their paths never crossed until they were both working for Garlough. Family took priority in the 1950s as Carl and his wife Merlyn had four children. Ron, Rob, Loren and Ann. Carl was particularly concerned about his son Ron who contracted polio at the age of three months. At that time in 1952, little Ronnie was the youngest person ever in an iron lung. Later, as a toddler, Ron’s legs needed exercise and the best way to do that was in water, so Carl dug out and built a two-foot-deep pool in the back yard, lined with cement and including a pump to keep it clean. Carl was also a devoted son who looked after his widowed mother and disabled older sister for many years.
Unexpectedly, his mentor and friend Bill Garlough passed away in 1966. Carl then put even more time and energy into his business so he could continue to meet the needs of all his clients. He added accountants along the way, but his favorite addition was his son Rob, who returned to Turlock to work with his dad in 1980, and who still maintains the integrity and skill that have been the hallmarks of C.E. Hillberg and Company.
Carl’s community service began in earnest in the 1960s. He was on the board of Emanuel Hospital and with Hospital Administrator Paul Avard, was instrumental in negotiating the purchase of the property on Olive Avenue where the hospital stands today.
He was also elected City Treasurer for the City of Turlock in 1960. At that time the population of Turlock was just over 9,000. He was chosen in eight consecutive elections and served the city of Turlock for 32 years with five different mayors: Quayle Norton, Enoch Christoffersen, Dale Pinkney, Brad Bates and Curt Andre, until he retired from that position in 1992. The population had more than quadrupled to over 40,000 by the time of his retirement.
Rotary Club, an organization that is devoted to community service, was another of his many activities. He served as President of the Turlock Club during the ‘60s. He was also very involved with the Turlock Chamber of Commerce and served as president of that body as well. For many years he was very active in the Century Club, a group that supported and was an advocate for the fledgling Cal State Stanislaus.
He was the Prize Auditor for the Stanislaus County Fair and would spend fair week signing checks for all the prize winners in the various competitive show categories.
Because he had three sons, he was naturally involved in youth sports and coached Little League teams – also in the 1960s.
During these years his accounting firm was growing, but he also had time to serve in various capacities at Nazareth Lutheran Church and later at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, eventually serving on the Board of Directors for the California, Nevada, Hawaii District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
When a new community project needed volunteers, this time restoring the historic Turlock High School Auditorium which had been damaged by a fire in 1979, Carl was ready and willing to help once again, with his financial expertise. Along with many others who worked on the project from 1986 until its opening in 1999, he was committed to seeing the restoration completed.
Being proud of his Swedish heritage, he was happy to become involved with the Scandinavian Festival that was held for a number of years in the 1990s and early 2000s. His job, of course, was treasurer.
Over the years, Carl and his wife Merlyn enjoyed their children and grandchildren, socializing with neighbors, church and community friends, and their bridge clubs. While they were both in good health, they were able to take many delightful trips around the United States and the world.
Eventually Merlyn’s health declined, and she passed away in 2004.
In 2006, a wonderful new chapter in Carl’s life began when he married Betty Pettus. They shared many mutual friends and had a great time entertaining friends in their home, as Betty is an outstanding hostess. They also took some marvelous trips, until age and caution forced them to slow down. But, after such a busy life, it is time to slow down and enjoy a very happy birthday.