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June 20, 2019

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15 minutes with Bluffton's man-about-town

Charles Hilty celebrates birthday number 84

Bluffton’s man-about-town Charles Hilty blew out 84 candles on election day, Nov. 6.

To hear him tell it, his birth was an American political omen.  After considering the following, you may have to agree.

“I was born 15 minutes before the 1934 mid-term polls opened,” he says. “My birth marked the very bottom of the Great Depression for the Republican Party.”

Adding that when born there were only 88 Republicans among the 432 members of Congress (48 states in 1934), representing the largest-ever congressional majority for the Democrats in U.S. history.

He says that when his father went to vote later in the day he announced that Bluffton has one more Republican.

For residents born or who moved here after 1967, here’s some of what you missed from this John W. Bricker-era Republican.

He was almost Bluffton High School’s first-ever student admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy. And, due to some flukes, he turned it down, heading instead to a career in journalism at Ohio Wesleyan.

From 1961 to 1967 he edited the Bluffton News, working alongside Milt Edwards, publisher, and Gene Benroth, ad salesperson. During this era, the weekly newspaper earned several state and national awards.

Hilty was editor of the News at the time of the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado, which was perhaps the biggest-ever news story in Bluffton, next to Dillinger’s bank robbery, which occurred one year before Mr. Hilty became Bluffton’s newest Republican.

During his News editorship, he saw the transition from letterpress to cold type. And, he has the distinction of being the only newspaper editor in the U.S. to ever produce a 7-page issue. It happened only once and you need to think about how he pulled this off.

Following his News stint, he and his wife, Carol, moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he became editor of the Bloomington Pantagraph. Then, from 1973 to 1978 he was night editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He claims that had Richard Nixon’s enemy list expanded from 8 to 9, he might have been on the list. We’ll never know, but it makes a great story.

Then, in 1978 politics called. He became the senior staff member for U.S. Congressman Edward R. Madigan. President George (41) Bush later named Madigan U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Our man Hilty followed Madigan to become Assistant Secretary of Agriculture under Bush. Between the Bush and Clinton administrations, for a span of 10 days or so, he was acting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (the second largest agency of the federal government.) Not bad for a kid from a small town in Ohio born 15 minutes before the 1934 mid-term elections.

We’ll stop at this point, because we’ve passed the 450-word attention-span limit. Be aware that there’s more to this story, but as Marco Polo is believed to state: “There are some things I’ve not told you because you wouldn’t believe me.”

Happy birthday Mr. H.