For half a century Archie Hilliard played a pivotal role in Union’s growth—personally installing and maintaining much of the campus infrastructure that supports the school’s educational mission. Even though he spent most of those years working with brick and metal, he believes Union’s people are what make this a special place.
Hilliard first arrived at Union to study at the high school—then located right on campus. He took a break after graduation to help his parents build their home and sell books before returning to campus to study engineering.
After taking a drafting course, Hilliard got his first taste of a potential engineering career as he drew bridges and pillars in the basement of the state capitol building. “You always have to start out at the very beginning of everything,” he said.
But he hated being stuck inside and a shortage of funding for tuition forced him to look elsewhere for a future career. About that time, Union offered him a full-time position in Plant Services.
Union’s business manager wanted his employees to learn a trade and, thanks to this emphasis in continuing education, Hilliard eventually trained as an electrician, learned how to weld and mastered other trades throughout his time at Union.
“I was thankful they were always so helpful taking me on as a full-time worker and letting me go to special schools and learn all the different trades,” Hilliard said. “That, to me, is worth a million.”
During his 45 years of employment, Hilliard was involved in just about every building on campus. “If you look around the campus, you can see it’s beautiful. The buildings are beautiful.” Hilliard attributes that to the teamwork of the employees and students. Most of the buildings built during his time at Union utilized employee and student labor, and many of the actual bricks even laid by students.
Over the years, Hilliard noted big changes not so much in the layout of the buildings, but in the needs for education. He recalled the simpler sciences and the department having a single microscope for biology students to share.
It’s the continued growth of students that holds a special place in Hilliard’s heart. When he became an electrician, students helped him do electrical work in many of the buildings. Students also helped with one of the projects that makes him most proud: updating the 49ers Athletic Field.
“We did it all,” Hilliard said. “The lights, the buildings, the sprinkler system, the fence around it. We had help, but we did it all, and it’s one of the finest ball fields in Lincoln.”
Beyond the physical labor done on campus, one of Hilliard’s biggest blessings was watching God work in students’ lives. Many students came to Union “with no idea what they were going to do,” he recalled. “But with the Lord’s and teachers’ help, they’ve all become successful, every one.”
Success through teamwork prevailed during his time in Plant Services, too. He talks fondly of the times students and full-time employees united to finish projects. “It always amazed me how everyone at Union College worked together,” Hilliard said.
By Trina Peterson Cress ’08