MAYSVILLE | During his 92 years, Ernest B. Hillenmeyer Jr. lived by the motto his father instilled during his boyhood on their Lexington farm : “Be honest, and be of service to your community.”
Hillenmeyer embodied that creed through the many decades and facets of his life, each guided by love of God, family and his community.
Hillenmeyer, former president of Parker Tobacco Company and leader in Catholic church and civic affairs, died April 3, 2014, at the age of 92, at Maysville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following a long illness.
He raised seven children in Maysville, where he lived for the past 68 years, and is survived by his wife of more than 52 years, Mary Agnes Farrell Hillenmeyer.
The World War II veteran helped establish Meadowview Regional Medical Center in Maysville and Hospice of Hope, which provides end-of-life care and through which, as its first chaplain, he ministered to patients. In 1985, he was ordained a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Diocese of Covington's first class of men to enter the permanent diaconate and served his parish at St. Patrick Church, Maysville, along with St. James Church in Brooksville, where he was pastoral associate from 1998 to 2002. Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, where Hillenmeyer was the first layman to chair the board of trustees, awarded him an honorary doctorate in may 2013 for his lifetime of leadership and volunteerism.
“Deacon Ernie Hillenmeyer was a gentleman and a man of integrity,” said Sister Justina Franxman, OSB, his friend and spiritual director for a number of years. “ He loved God, his family and the Church. He was committed to his ministry and saw Jesus in the people to whom he ministered. Ernie loved life to the full.”
“Ernie” Hillenmeyer was born Feb. 26, 1922, in Lexington, to Earnest B. Hillenmeyer Sr. and Mathilde Scott Hillenmeyer and grew up on his father's farm. His passion for gardening and agriculture dates to his youth tending peach and potato crops with his dad, himself the son and grandson of nurserymen.
He attended St. Paul's School in Lexington and later graduated from Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wis.
He graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., holding a commission from 1942 to 1952 as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, from which he was discharged as a lieutenant.
He spent three and a half years during World War II as a deck officer aboard liberty ships in the Merchant Marine, sailing with the North Atlantic and Pacific fleets.
During the war, he met fellow Kentuckian Ellen Cochrane Parker, a Maysville native whom he married in April 1945.
His father-in-law, S. Alex Parker Sr. hired Hillenmeyer into the family's tobacco business in 1946 and the couple settled in Maysville, where their four children, Zoe, Theresa, Ernie and Cece, were born.
Following his first wife's death in 1960, Hillenmeyer married Mary Agnes Farrell of Ludlow, to whom he was introduced by his childhood friend, the late Msgr. John F. Murphy.
Married in October 1961, the couple had three more children, Ellen, Katy and Paul.
He frequently traveled abroad for business and hosted international guest in the creek-side house he built in Huntington Park, one of two contiguous subdivisions he helped to develop in Aberdeen, Ohio.
Whether sailing houseboats, pitching horseshoes, playing bridge or crosswords, betting horses at Keeneland or cheering on the University of Kentucky Wildcats, Hillenmeyer enjoyed recreating with his family and friends, and delighted in competition.
In 1987, Hillenmeyer was a representative attending various Masses when Pope John Paul II visited and met with deacons for a conference, in Detroit, Mich.
In all his years teaching card games to his kids and grand-kids, he never threw a hand. He took pride, too, in his vegetable and flower gardens, producing homegrown tomatoes and asparagus into his 90s.
Hillenmeyer began his long association with Thomas More College when in the mid 1950s he was invited to become a member of the Board of Lay Overseers, to which he was selected chairman in 1960. This Board recommended the college's move from downtown Covington, to Crestview Hills and the construction there of a new campus.
Along with education, Hillenmeyer worked to advance ecumenism, health care and economic and human development.
As a member of the Limestone Ministerial Association, he led ministers and others to locally observe an annual week of prayer for Christian unity, now in its 42nd year.
He chaired a fund-raising drive to build a new hospital to replace Maysville's outdated Hayswood Hospital. For 10 years, he chaired the Hayswood Foundation, launching its grant program which donated funds to support St. Patrick School, the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club and other projects in surrounding communities.
A founding member of the Council for Burley Tobacco, Hillenmeyer testified before Congress on behalf of tobacco trade associations, and formerly presided over the Burley Tobacco Dealers Association.
He served two terms as council member and vice mayor of Aberdeen; was local district chairman for the Boy Scouts of America; president of the Maysville Country Club; served as a director of the local Chamber of Commerce; formerly presided over Appalachian Industries in Vanceburg, promoting employment and housing; and was a lifetime member of the UK Alumni Association.
During retirement, he and his wife, Mary, routinely attended daily Mass, and prayer and scriptural reflection, and continued to nurture their deep bonds of affection and eagerness to share their faith with others.
“Ernie is a pillar – gentle and firm at the same time,” cousin Robert F. Houlihan Jr., of Lexington said. “He's loved and respected. And he was totally unafraid to die. You can't live a bad life and be unafraid of death.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary Farrell Hillenmeyer; youngest sister, Mary Hillenmeyer Fiore of Kansas City Missouri; six children, 11 grandchildren, beloved in-laws and many other relatives who were dear to him.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Monday, April 7, at St. Patrick Church, in Maysville.
Visitation is 4-8 p.m., April 6, with Vigil Prayers at 7:30 p.m. at the church.
Burial will be in St. Patrick Cemetery.
Following the committal rite at St. Patrick Cemetery, friends and family are invited to gather for food and fellowship at the Limestone Center.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the John J. Brannen Foundation, in care of St. Patrick School, 318 Limestone Street, Maysville, Ky. 41056, or St. Patrick Church, 111 East Third Street, Maysville, Ky. 41056.
Woodhead Funeral Home, Falmouth, is serving the family.