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Ninety-three and going strongTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Roy Hild, indoors on the job
Photo by George Lauby
Roy and Lily
Photo by George Lauby
Outdoors on the job
Photo by George Lauby
One of few pictures on the office wall: WWII bombers.
Photo by George Lauby

Neither old age or bitter cold can get Roy Hild down.

Hild, 93, owns and operates Hild Propane in North Platte with his son Kent, and you can find him on the job.

Hild, a Brady native who flew B-29 bombers over Japan during World War II, settled in North Platte after the war with his wife Lily.

In 1946, Pearson’s Appliance store was hiring help and Hild was looking for a job. Hild went to work for Pearson’s, the start a 67-year career in North Platte. Today, he works six days a week at Hild Propane regardless of the weather.

Hild is at work before 8 a.m. and he stays until 5 p.m., repairing propane appliances including heaters, in his shop attached to the Hild Propane office at 1118 North Jeffers.

Customers drop by to get repairs, parts or leave heaters with him to be repaired. Hild jokes and visits. If they need propane tanks filled, he goes outdoors to fill them. On winter days, he mans up in the cold north wind that blows through his bulk tank area.

“He’s taken good care of our family over the years,” customer Vern Hiatt, 55, said Dec. 3 as Hild filled six propane canisters in the chilly wind so Hiatt’s duck blinds will be heated. With the temperature dropping, Hiatt was looking forward to some good hunting weather.

“If we happen to run out of propane during a blizzard, we just come here,” Hiatt said. “He always fills our tanks. It doesn’t matter how deep the snow gets.”

Hild gets up around 6:30 a.m. in the morning and it doesn’t take him long to get going.

“If I don’t get going, I don’t get anything done,” he said.

He eats four pieces of toast, drinks a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. Then he goes to work.

He said getting up and going to work keeps him in good shape.

“There’s times when I’d like to stay in bed, but when you have a mess of work to do like I do, it’s better to get going,” he said with a laugh.

Recently his physician advised him to work another 10 years, then he better slow down, he said with a laugh.

Roy graduated from Brady High School. He was drafted when WWII began. He studied airplane mechanics and applied for flight school when the opportunity presented itself. He spent nearly a year and a half in pilot’s training. When he was assigned to combat, he flew B-29s from Guam to Japan, 30 missions in all, right into the heart of enemy territory.

“We got shot up several times,” he said. “We had to make an emergency landing at Iwo Jima three times, and we owe our lives to the 8,000 Marines who died in capturing that island.”

That was 68 years ago.

Before the war was over, he managed to get a three-day leave in 1944 to come to North Platte and marry his sweetheart Lily. They met in 1941 at a dance at the Jeffers Pavilion.

When they settled down together after the war, they raised two sons. Kurt was born in 1946 and Kent in 1950.

Roy worked for Pearson’s in North Platte for nine years as the service manager. In 1955 he became a self-employed repairman, specializing in heating and air conditioning. He said he did many things to earn a living, including carpentry.

In 1962, he partnered with Jerry Cohen of Wallace to form the Cohen-Hild LP Gas Co. They also opened a store in North Platte. Lily helped keep the books in their home, which was their office too.

In 1975, he bought Cohen’s share of the business. His son Kent joined the company in 1981. They moved to the present location near Jeffers and Rodeo Road in 1991, when they also moved the business office out of their home and into the new building – a happy day in Lily’s life, she said.

The company covers a territory that includes Thedford on the north, Wellfleet on the south, Brady on the east and Madrid on the west.

Lily said they worked long hours. There were times when they would start preparing monthly billings at 8 a.m. and be lucky to be finished by midnight. They wrote everything by hand.

Lily, 88, has loved working with her husband.

“I like his truthfulness with people,” she said. “He is as honest as the day is long. Morals mean a lot to him.”

Lily’s father Harry Lavine operated the Continental Oil Co. and gas station next to what is now Hild Propane. She is a North Platte native. As a teenager, she worked at Montgomery Wards downtown and she remembers the WWII Canteen.

“The number of people they served – it was unbelievable,” she said.

Roy and Lily said North Platte’s little Chicago days did not affect them much.

“We didn’t go down on Front St.,” Roy said.

“I love North Platte,” she said. “It’s a small city but it’s just right for raising a family and it has lots of interesting things to do. And, I love our church – Our Redeemer Lutheran.”

The couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in 10 months, on Sept. 25.

Roy said a lot of good people have helped him over the years, and four that come readily to mind are Frank Stuart, Art Storm, Robert Smith and Foynce Brynoff, all of whom worked at the former Northwestern Public Service gas company, which is now Northwestern Energy.

“If I ever needed something, I could go down there,” he said.

When asked about his most trying time, Roy said there have been too many to count. Then he mentioned one.

“They got us (our bomber) in their lights over Tokyo,” he said. “That’s when I decided I’d better dedicate my life to Him. There have several times when there was one set of footprints in the sand — that was when He was carrying me.”

Another memorable experience was delivering propane to a customer who ran out at Lake Maloney when the wind chill was 34 below zero.

“We got him the propane he needed,” he said. “We drove Chevys, running on propane, and they would always start.”

Roy has stayed active when not working, bowling and playing golf. He shot par on his best day on the links, but he hasn’t been out for six years or so.

“They all got scared to play me,” he joked.

He said North Platte has made some good improvements over the years, notably better streets, but life is not like it was.

“I don’t know how we got along without so much government,” he said. “But then again, yes I do. Lots of people used their common sense. There are still lots of good people, but they are being brainwashed.”

“Some people are born with a silver spoon in their hand, and they’ve never spent sleepless nights wondering how to make payroll,” he said.

But Hild likes his life.

“North Platte has been very good to us,” he said. “And, the Lord has blessed me beyond belief.”

This report was first published in the Dec. 4 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 12/23/2013
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