Evidence of a well lived life can be calculated with many yardsticks; but in
the measure that matters most, and balanced on a scale that considers how
deeply one has touched others in ways memorable and meaningful, for Hillary
Lukes and those who knew him, life was by all accounts - large.
His passing last week brought reflection and admiration from individuals
within the community as wide ranging and assorted as Chesterton’s Town
Council president to a collective of friends at Riley’s Railhouse, The Red
Cup CafŽ and Flannery’s Tavern.
In expressing those things that would best describe Hillary, the responses
from those who knew him, however, varied little. Repeated in the chorus was
a refrain of: “sweet, kind, gentle and loyal”.
With a flair for alliteration, “steadfast, strong and supportive”, were the
words offered as a recollection of Hillary by Chesterton Town Council
President, Emerson Delaney.
“It was his zest for life that captivated our hearts”, said friend Richard
Riley, proprietor of Riley’s Railhouse Bed and Breakfast. “His attitude was
infectious and made us feel good to be aliveÉ and in his company.” Added by
Riley’s wife, Annmarie, “I felt good every time I was with him.”
Hillary Lukes, at 88, was a raconteur, wise-cracker and unlikely bar-fly. A
nattily dressed and always meticulously groomed gentleman devoted to weekly
mass at St. Patrick’s Church, he was also a regular at Flannery’s Tavern,
referred to by him as “the office”. He was a teetotaler who drank coffee
brewed there especially for him and was the beating heart of a smoke tinged
congregation of characters who frequent that establishment. That he had a
distinctively sly and jolly walk and “loved the girls” was mentioned by more
than a few. About the walk: “He did that when he was coming over to steal a
kiss from Kimmie,” said Flannery’s friend, Mark Hoenke, when recounting
Hillary’s affection for Kim Nelson-Krill, Hoenke’s girlfriend. “He’d kind of
sway from side to side with that grin on his face trying to sneak past me
and it was priceless. Then when he got his kiss he would give me a look like
‘Take that Buddy - Jab, Jab’. It was a routine we went through every time we
met.” He added: “I will miss him. He was a barometer of Flan’s that was
consistent, no matter what the crowd changed into.”
Hillary was masterful with quick quips and witty comebacks, never more
exemplified than in his numerous comments and one-liners appearing daily in
Facebook exchanges with an always growing list of virtual friends.
A talented painter and photographer who loved art and history, he was also a
lifelong Cubs, Bears and Notre Dame fan. He loved antiquing and thrift
stores, his cat named Wrigley, pig’s knuckles and sauerkraut, in no
Hillary’s narrative was full of great stories, among them of a time he
worked for Western Union delivering singing telegrams. He said a highlight
of that experience was dispensing a musical Happy Birthday message to Cab
Calloway, who thanked him, but told him he ought to keep his day job.
Another story Hillary told was of having once skipped school to see Gypsy
Rose Lee, an act that resulted in being grounded by his mother, Frances, a
woman he described as very ahead of her time and who held a driver’s license
when that wasn’t the norm.
But at the top of the rankings, among those things he loved best, was Mary
Anne, his wife of 47 years and the love of his life, who passed before him
in 2007. This was a point made with emphasis by his cousin, Debbie
Christian, of Michigan City. Hillary and Christian’s mother, Agnes, were
close cousins and she relates that: “He was quite the eligible bachelor. But
when he found Mary Anne his life revolved around her. It is a true love
As Hillary told it, he was traveling for his job when he met Mary Anne at a
hotel in Ohio where she worked. He was smitten immediately, and asked her
for a date. When Mary Anne told him she wasn’t allowed to socialize with the
hotel guests, he responded by telling her he was checking out then so she
could meet him after work at a restaurant down the street.
Christian added that, together, he and Mary Anne enjoyed big bands and swing
dancing, and the light of their life, their daughter, Mary.
Hillary kept a love for their music alive and was always game for swaying
with a dance partner to the sentimental sounds he enjoyed with his beloved
wife. Not many who knew him would be surprised that Hillary danced at
Flannery’s the week before he died.
For those fortunate to have become a part of Hillary’s collection of quirky
characters playing their parts in his story, the rewards of being on the
stage with him were many.
Another of Hillary’s friends, Holly Jackson said wistfully that she loved
“watching him go through his days; so elegantly, with an eloquence and
spirit, a sweet buffer of love and humor which was likely the recipe for his
longevity.” She added what many others have observed: “Every time our paths
crossed he had a smile or a sweet smirk with a humorous anecdote to follow,
a friendship trait to treasure.” She added with a smile that she would truly
miss seeing him, as he would say: “around campus.”
When friends gathered, often at Riley’s Railhouse, Hillary held court.
Another friend, Gordon Smith, recalled that Hillary never wanted to miss a
good time and was always first to arrive at any event. As each new arrival
stepped through the door, Hillary would say: “Oh, there goes the
Jamie Hogan, whose chance encounter with Hillary and Mary at the 2011
Schoolhouse Art Fair, is credited by mutual friends with bringing them into
a wider circle. Hillary was known to spin that story by saying that she
“picked them up”. Nevertheless, rarely seen apart and always smiling, their
welcome was unqualified and absolute and all agree they were a “good find.”
Of the many endearing traits that Hillary illustrated in his gentle way, it
is his devotion to his daughter, Mary, and adoration of her that touched
many and will stay in their memory of him. “That he had in him such capacity
is his blessing, but to have that dedication bestowed, is hers”, Hogan
Hillary, who spent some of his youth in Chesterton, came full circle when he
moved back to the community after living in Chicago, Cleveland, Evansville,
Indiana and Fairfield, Illinois. In addition to his wife, he was also
preceded in death by his sister, Dorothy, and parents, Walter and Frances.
He is survived by his daughter, Mary Lukes, of Chesterton, numerous
relatives and extended family in Chesterton, Michigan City and Valparaiso.
Arrangements are under the direction of White-Love Funeral Home, 926-1309.
A celebration of Hillary’s life will be held privately. Contributions to his
memory may be made in care of Maria Eicke at Riley’s Railhouse.