Emma HillbergNovember 27, 1917 ~ December 24, 2014 (age 97)
Life Story – Emma Hillberg – 97 years Nov. 27, 1917 – Dec. 24, 2014
The United States was in the middle of World War I, and Woodrow Wilson was president. It was November 27, 1917 when Emma was born at home in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, into the Palady family. She joined her mother and father, Velma and Albert, along with siblings Margaret and Bill. Emma was not the youngest child for long. Soon she was joined by Albert, Ethel, Julius, and Joe, for a total of seven children.
The town of McKeesport is located in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. When Emma was born, the population of McKeesport was 45,000 and it was a center for coal mining and steel manufacturing. Her early elementary school years were in McKeesport, but at some point the family moved to the borough of Zelienople, about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, which was a much smaller town. Emma didn’t like going to school there, and was very happy when the family moved back to McKeesport. One thing Emma liked in school was occasional music classes, and she could sing well.
In those days, high school education wasn’t required. Being that the financial situation of the family was dire, a job was found for Emma. At age 14, in 1931, Emma went to work as a house maid, earning $2 a week. She remembered long days scrubbing floors and fixtures and anything else she was told to do at the Peterson’s home. The next year she was made to work at the Smith’s home as a live-in maid. This situation was worse as she was required to do housework even if she was ill with the flu or tonsillitis, which Emma remembers getting every year. After two years with the Smiths, she went to work for Mrs. Harris in the Bronx, New York, for a year. Emma did not care to remain with any of these people doing housework.
In 1935, age 17, she moved back home and got a job at the White Star Laundry making $7.50 a week. She worked there six years, but in 1941 went back to doing housework, this time for Mr. & Mrs. Craven, making $10 a week. This job was probably better than the others as Emma had good things to say about Mrs. Craven, although she was very particular. But she worked there only one year. The reason: Emma got a job was at the Westinghouse factory making better money – $40 a week – insulating electrical coils with asbestos. Of course, there were no safety precautions such as masks or gloves.
At this time World War II was raging in Europe, and Emma, along with most of America, kept up with the news by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio. She remembered happy times as a young girl sitting around the radio listening to programs such as Amos & Andy. Whenever a little money was available, she would go with her mother to the movies to watch shows such as Laurel & Hardy, or Charlie Chaplin, or maybe a musical starring Shirley Temple. The entertainment brought relief from the harsh realities of living under the Great Depression. One day, Emma and her sisters came across a radio program called "The Voice of Prophecy" with speaker H.M.S. Richards. The sisters were interested in the message and found his sermons grounded in scripture, so they sent for the Voice of Prophecy Bible study lessons. They were convicted of the seventh-day Sabbath and that Jesus was coming again very soon. So Emma and her sisters, Peg and Ethel, and brother Julius became members of the McKeesport Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Someone in their new Adventist fellowship suggested that Emma learn to be a practical nurse, which was a fitting occupation for a young Adventist woman. Emma was given the opportunity to enroll at a practical nursing school in Pittsburgh in 1945. While there, she worked for a family who had a little boy that had tuberculosis. Emma would give him his prescribed injections, but the sweet little boy died at age 3, and it broke Emma’s heart. After nursing school, Emma worked at Dr. Shepard’s nursing home in Pittsburgh.
At this point in Emma’s story there comes a mystery. In 1948, for some unknown reason, she quit her job and decided to leave Pennsylvania. She traveled by train with a friend named Anne Wright, to Pasadena, California. While in Southern California, Emma moved into a room at an Adventist nurses’ dorm and found work as a nurse’s aide at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. She worked in the medical unit and in polio rehab physical therapy. She saw firsthand the terrible effects of polio before there was a vaccine. At some point Emma met the nephew of a friend who attended church, Mary Little. The nephew was Robert Hillberg, known as "Bob."
In two years Emma left her job in Southern California and returned home to McKeesport, this time as a home companion to the Craven’s. They must have become special friends by this time, as Emma referred to them as "Ma" and "Pa" Craven. After two more years, Emma left the Cravens and got a job as a nurse’s aide in Takoma Park, Maryland, at the Washington Sanitarium. She worked in the operating room and in central supply. But this lasted less than a year. In November of 1952, Emma returned to Southern California and worked at White Memorial Hospital again, this time as kitchen help and telephone switchboard operator.
However, there was no room for her to live at the nurse’s dorm. The director of the hospital kitchen, Ruth Little, took note that Emma needed a place to live. Ruth mentioned that her mother, Mary Little, had a room available in her home. Emma knew Mary Little and decided to move there.
Mary Little would often invite her nephew Bob for lunch on weekends. Bob was an aircraft mechanic at Los Angeles Airways, and Aunt Mary was interested in bringing him into the church and – just maybe – finding him a sweetheart. While Emma had been living back East, she had corresponded with Bob and upon returning to California, continued the friendship. Bob had been raised on a dairy farm in Washington State, and had been a GI in World War II. After the war he enrolled in aviation technical school near Tacoma, Washington. This led to employment in Southern California at Los Angeles Airways, working on helicopters. Soon Emma and Bob were courting, and Bob even taught Emma how to drive – although she never did get a license. Eventually Bob and Emma were married on April 18, 1954. Emma had purchased a petite white suit as a wedding dress, and the White Memorial Chapel was graced with calla lilies. Pastor Arthur Bietz officiated.
Emma and Bob took up residence in the Los Angeles area. Two daughters came along – Janice Ruth and Carol Jeannine. Emma took up her roles as wife and mother, being as efficient and thrifty as possible. With all her experience as a house maid, she was second-to-none at keeping the house clean. Her least favorite chore was cooking, but she did it well, always making healthful vegetarian meals for the family.
Emma could not be beat at finding bargains and saving money, which she did passionately. After getting married, Emma never did take up full-time employment, but took on occasional jobs such as babysitting, cleaning a dental office, and house cleaning. She absolutely meant to live within the means that Bob provided, and she always did.
Emma had a hobby that went right along with her thriftiness: she was an avid contest and sweepstakes participant. The main way she would do this was to listen to the radio and find stations that had some kind of contest going, such as calling in to win a prize, usually money, or sometimes tickets to Disneyland or other things. Among the many things she won were a motorcycle, watches, a refrigerator, trips, and cash. Years later, she made Bob fill out entries for a vacation package while she shopped. Bob won the vacation package that included a wonderful cruise to the Bahamas and a trip to California. Her favorite TV programs were game shows: Let’s Make A Deal, Hollywood Squares, Concentration, $65,000 Pyramid, Jeopardy, Family Feud; and later in life, Wheel of Fortune and Who wants to be a Millionaire. Jan and Carol grew up watching many game shows with Mom. Even in her last month of life, she reminded Carol that she wanted to watch "Jeopardy and Wheel."
In the 1960’s, Bob and Emma felt that they didn’t want to raise their girls in Los Angeles. There had been riots and unrest, and the city felt unsafe. In 1968, Bob secured a job with Frakes Aviation, in Northern California. After the girls were out of school, the family moved to St. Helena – a small town in the beautiful Napa Valley. Emma enjoyed living there, and it was a convenient walk to Main Street for shopping. Every year, Emma always looked forward to a trip "back home" to McKeesport. This occurred each summer from the time Jan was born until Carol was in college. A benefit of Bob’s working for Los Angeles Airways was free airfare for the family, one trip per year. After moving to St. Helena, these trips would be by car.
In 1974 Bob’s employer, Frakes Aviation, moved their operation to Cleburne, Texas – in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Emma was sad to leave St. Helena. Bob had purchased a home in the little college town of Keene, Texas. It took a long while for Emma to get used to Texas. Springs and summers were so hot. Great thunderstorms roared through, and sometimes tornadoes. The nearest stores were in the town of Cleburne, which was too far away for walking. After work, Bob drove her into town at least once each week, so that she could get the best grocery bargains. Soon Emma made many dear friends in Keene. She was a long-time deaconess at the Keene Church.
As the years rolled by, Carol got married and moved to Oregon, which is where Sister Jan and her family lived. Bob and Emma decided they would move to Oregon, too. Emma had always wanted a house with a basement, so this was her chance. They purchased a lot in Clackamas, Oregon, and built a small house. It had room in the unfinished basement for Bob to have a workshop, and plenty of space for Emma to store things. In 1993 Emma and Bob left their many neighbors and friends in Texas and moved to Oregon. For Bob, it was like moving back home, since he had grown up in the Northwest. But Emma was not so fond of the rain. She did enjoy the mild summers and beautiful flowers and trees. Bob and Emma joined the Sunnyside Adventist Church in Portland and were able to help as deacon and deaconess for a time.
After a few years in Oregon, in 1997, they decided to buy a camper and take a long trip all around the United States to visit Emma’s many friends and relatives. They traveled once more to Pennsylvania, and down to Texas. It was the last time Emma would go "back home" to see her brothers and sisters.
More years went by, and even their two granddaughters, Kristin and Melissa grew up. One August night in 2009, Bob noticed something was wrong and called an ambulance for Emma. Doctors discovered she had blood clot in the kidneys. After this event she regained most of her life, but it wasn’t quite the same. The summer of 2013 brought another decline in health, probably from very small, undetectable strokes. Emma was sometimes confused. She spent most of her time on the living room sofa and even lost interest in reading.
After just a few more months, Bob decided it was time to simplify life and move out of the house. He chose a one-bedroom apartment at Somerset Lodge in Gladstone. Emma didn’t like the idea, although she seemed to understand and went along with the move. But her health declined further, and she fell several times. Soon Emma needed more care than the family could provide. In July, 2014, Emma was taken first to Milwaukie Convalescent Center where good nurses knew how to help with medications and falls. Then she went to another care unit – and on the very first night – she got out of bed, fell, and broke a shoulder. Jan and Carol continued to pray and seek a new place for Mom to get the right care. The best care givers were found in Emma and Bob’s own church, Lidia and John Hutuleac. In September they took Emma into their home and lovingly cared for her. The Sunday before Christmas Emma had a stroke while at the dinner table. She passed peacefully away on Christmas Eve, with Bob at her bedside. Now she awaits the greatest moment of her new life – when Jesus, the Savior whom Emma loved – comes in all His glory to take His people home.