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A valley descendant passes on
An Arlington school board member in the 1960s, a fire district commissioner of Oso Fire District No. 25, a long-time board member of the Oso Community Center, and a life-long member of the Immaculate Conception Church in Arlington, John Hillis Sr., passed away Saturday, Dec. 2, from Parkinsons Disease and a stroke.
His wife, Madonna Hillis, said they noticed the first signs of Parkinsons around 1990 and then he had a stroke April 3, 1997. He then was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 1998 and spent two years fighting that back.
He started going downhill after the chemotherapy, Madonna Hillis said.
Even then, he held on, watching his boys take care of the cattle from the window over his bed, up on Grants Creek Road, looking out over the land that his father homesteaded in 1896.
A dairy farmer who also raised beef cattle, Hillis was also a logger, harvesting trees off the family land on the southwestern slope of Frailey Mountain.
Madonna said the storm last week was the last straw.
We got the generator going and he was nice and warm, but it was hard on John.
While his speech was impacted from the stroke, he was able to communicate through the years until he started going downhill in recent weeks, Madonna said.
He got what they call the death rattle, Madonna said noting it is related to pneumonia.
John Hillis was born to Charles and Florence Hillis April 7, 1926 at Providence Hospital in Seattle. He attended first- through fourth-grades at Cicero School in the neighborhood where he lived all of his life. He attended fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Arlington and 6th through 8th grades at Roosevelt School, the building which is now home to the school districts administration office.
Hillis graduated from Arlington High School in 1944, playing on the championship football team that year. After high school, John attended Seattle University for one semester before a disastrous fire at the farm brought him home to help his brother, Charles.
John was drafted into military service and posted to the Korean Conflict, but he went back to farming after the war.
On August 14, 1956, he married Madonna Ripperger, of Iowa, whom he met as a penpal. They had six children John Jr., Mathew, Mark, Carol, Mary Margaret and Kathleen.
Hillis was a director of the Arlington School District from 1965 1969. He fought to save the Oso School and was instrumental in helping turn the old school building into a community center, helping maintain the building as a board for as long as he could.
He was a commissioner for Oso Fire District No. 25 and he also belonged to the Mount Wheeler Grange in Oso.
Hillis leaves behind his wife of 50 years, five of his six children and his five grandchildren Erin Jarman, Erika Jarman, Samantha and Tristan Hillis, and Tasha Hillis.
He loved his kids and his grandkids, Madonna said.
He was preceded in death by his parents and four brothers (Martin, Charles Jr., Joseph and Fred), a daughter Mary Margaret and nephew Timothy Hills.
A recitation of the rosary starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6 at the Immaculate Conception Church. A mass will follow Thursday at 10:30 a.m. with interment at the Arlington Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to Knights of Columbus, scholarship money for kids at the Immaculate Conception Church or to the Oso Fire Department.
After 50 years, its hard to imagine life without John, Madonna said.