Wilbur Hild, Jr. ‘61: Rising Above the Fog
“If I hadn’t had the launch pad of Urbana University, I likely wouldn’t have had more than a common laborers’ job,” explained alumnus Wilbur Hild, Jr. ‘61. Wilbur’s life has come full circle, much like an extended trip around the world, safely returning home.
Hild’s journey began in Urbana where he lived until 6th grade when his family made a short move to “the country” near Saint Paris. It was in St. Paris where he would meet a fellow classmate his freshman year who would turn out to be his high school sweetheart and wife. Wilbur and his wife Shirley have been together for over 55 years and have three grown children, Wilbur III and Jeff of Ohio and Debbie of New Jersey.
After Hild graduated from Graham High School in 1959, he continued his education at Urbana, then a Junior College. His father, with a tenth grade education, was very influential in his decision to attend college; Wilbur admits that he was the type who needed a push. In high school, he enjoyed playing football, joking around and having fun; academics didn’t mean “zip” to him at the time and he didn’t have good study habits.
But, what he did have was a solid work ethic. He worked full time at Garber Seeders, Inc., started his family, and took evening and Saturday classes. Urbana was one of the first institutions nationwide to accommodate adult learners. He was able to take classes that fit into his work schedule. It was during those long hours in class that Hild found something different in his classroom dynamic; he found what he refers to as “the international flavor of the University.”
“There was such diversity in the student body,” he explained, “there were Iranian and Pakistani students taking classes here.” The diversity extended further than just nationality, “I was taking classes with an 80-year-young woman who was able to earn her graduation certificate; a life long objective of hers finally being achieved. He took classes from Mr. and Mrs. Blackmer who shared the challenges of the Great Depression.
With work and determination, Wilbur was frequently on the Dean’s list earning nearly straight A’s in the classroom. Hild credit’s the successes of the students to the flexibility of the University. “I worked full time and went to school. The College was amenable to my situation; otherwise I never would have had the opportunity to go to school.
It was the driving force, “the push” as he describes it, at UU that helped him set his sights even higher.
“It was with the help of my father and the faculty at Urbana who energized me to continue my education.”
After he earned his two year liberal arts degree at Urbana, Wilbur went on to complete his Bachelor and Master degrees in Mechanical Engineering at Ohio University in 1964 and 1965, respectively.
It was during his time at Ohio University that Hild’s career took flight. He was hired by Esso (now ExxonMobil) Research and Engineering Company in Florham Park, NJ in 1965 and worked for them or Exxon affiliates for the next 31 years.
“I would annually travel by plane 50,000 to 100,000 miles,” he remembers. With his extensive travel, he sees a bit of irony to the “rise above the fogs that dull the mind“ line in the Urbana alma mater. Hild literally spent many years soaring through the clouds on a plane.
For more than three decades, Hild worked all around the globe. He spent three years in England at the Esso Office in New Malden as a division manager of engineering technology, and one year each in Venezuela at the Amuay refinery and in Aruba at the Lago refinery as lead machinery startup advisor. He was the maintenance coordinator internationally and also an engineering division manager in Florham Park, NJ. Some of his most memorable career experiences were in the Phillipines, Libya, Columbia and Japan. As a matter of interest, Hild noted that his son, Wilbur III, made the Aruba Little League All Star Team as a shortstop in 1971.
His career highlights are vast. One of the things Wilbur is most proud of is having been influential in getting young talent recognized and promoted into successful careers at Exxon. Not surprisingly, Wilbur is a natural people person and served as mentor for many young professionals during his career.
Wilbur shares, “It was a damn good job. Here I started off as a country boy from St. Paris, Ohio and then traveled the world in a job that gave me a good deal of satisfaction.”
Since moving back to the area after retiring from Exxon in 1996, he has been a contributing member of the community serving on the Champaign County Health Board for the past 14 years. Hild is also the secretary of the Johnson Township Zoning Appeals Board.
Although he doesn’t put in the travel time like he used to, he still logs a good deal of miles on the family tractor mowing, and growing corn and soybeans on the Hild farm right here in Champaign County.