Rev. James K. Hilton Sr.

Rev. James K. Hilton Sr

ALTAMONT — Rev. Hilton’s son and daughter both said their father was more like Jesus than any person they knew.

As the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Altamont for 29 years, he shepherded his flock through the worst and best times of their lives.

“He could preach every weekend about real-life experience, he lived them. He was the real deal,” said his daughter, Lori Crawford.

She went on, “First and foremost, he was a humble person. He never thought what he did was all that grand. He was very loving. He touched so many people in so many different ways.”

She stressed, “He was genuine — he practiced what he preached and I think that was what people liked so much about him — he was honest and trustworthy."

“He was very unselfish, selfless in his love for people,” said his son, James K. Hilton Jr. “He was available all the time, whenever someone needed him.”

Rev. James “Keen” K. Hilton Sr. died on Sunday, May 5, 2019, at Syracuse Home Association in Baldwinsville, New York where he had lived for the past 12 years to be near his daughter. He was 93.

He was born in Altamont on May 28, 1925. He was baptized, confirmed, and married in St. John’s Lutheran Church and his memorial service will be held there on Saturday.

He was the son of Stanley and Anita Keenholts Hilton. His father worked in government and spent time in Washington, D.C. He enjoyed playing baseball with his two sons. His mother was a homemaker who did volunteer work during the war, and received a letter of thanks from the president for her contributions.

“They were Altamont people through and through,” Ms. Crawford said of her grandparents. “His father passed on when Dad was 16. He had a massive heart attack,” she said.

Keen Hilton graduated from Altamont High School as valedictorian in 1943. He served in the 10th Armored Division of Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe in World War II, from 1943 to 1946 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was in the 150th Armored Division signal company.

“He was a lineman, putting up communication lines,” said his daughter. “His group would go ahead, and climb poles to hang wires. He felt lucky to do that. He was not expected to use a gun unless he had to.”

But the duty had a downside. “They’d be up on these poles with snipers shooting at them,” said Ms. Crawford.

When Rev. Hilton returned home to Altamont after the war, his daughter said, he was standing in the front yard of his family’s home when a car went by and the young woman in the passenger seat waved to him.

“She gave him this huge wave,” said Ms. Crawford.

Rev. Hilton asked his mother who that was and she answered, “Marjorie Ogsbury.”

“Little Marjorie Ogsbury?” he asked. She’d been a girl when Rev. Hilton left for the war and now she was 17. “He was so taken with her,” said Ms. Crawford. “He pursued her. The rest is history.”

When Marjorie Ogsbury Hilton died in 2016, Rev. Hilton told The Enterprise he vividly remembered when he was first awestruck by this beautiful young woman. He was attending a church service in Altamont and she was singing in the choir. “She sang beautifully,” he said. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.”

After that, he would time his trips to retrieve mail for the hour she was walking home from Altamont High School. “We fell in love,” he said. “She was gorgeous and she stayed beautiful her whole life.” She had an inner beauty, too, he said. “Everybody loved her.”

Marjorie Ogsbury set their wedding date for the week after he graduated from Union College, with a degree in history. Rev. Hilton graduated in three years, in 1949.

He worked for the General Motors Acceptance Corporation from 1949 to 1953. “He just felt he needed something more,” said Ms. Crawford. “He felt the calling to go into the ministry.”

“We’ll never know unless we go,” his wife told him.

Rev. Hilton attended Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary from 1953 to 1956 and then served as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Central Bridge for five years. “I was born there,” said Ms. Crawford, who moved to Altamont with her parents when she was one.

Rev. Hilton served as the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church for 29 years, until he retired in 1990.

“He was so humble but so powerful at the same time,” said his daughter. “He was always listening, always helping, always there for people. If he got a call in the middle of the night from someone who was in distress, he would be there for them. He was the most Jesus-like person I could imagine.”

When Rev. Hilton conducted funerals, he would go to the bereaved family beforehand, Ms. Crawford said. During the funeral itself, he would encourage participation from the mourners in the congregation.

In an era when couples married in church, he was open to, say, officiating a wedding ceremony at in a field at High Point for a couple who asked him to.

As a father, Ms. Crawford said, “He was wonderful. He was such a support for all of us. He’d say, ‘Mom took care of you … She did it all because I was away doing my job.’”

But, really, his daughter said, “He was always there for us. He came to all of our sporting events and concerts.”

She went on, “I could have hated growing up in a minister’s family — you live in a glass house — but I loved it. He made life in a minister’s family normal. He never made you feel you had to act a certain way. He said, ‘Be yourself.’”

Speaking of both of her parents, Ms. Crawford said, “The example they gave us as a married couple, it was about love and being the best you can be.”

Ms. Crawford stressed that her father wasn’t perfect. “Did he have a temper? Sure. Did he take it out on us? Never. He’d throw his tennis racket.”

The lesson he taught, she said, was: Love God, love yourself.

Jamie Hilton said his father would often rise early, at 5 a.m. to have time to think and write his thoughts. He put together about 40 pages into a book called “Some Revelations.”

His son quoted from Rev. Hilton’s book: “I love learning about God each day in quiet times and through the people I encounter … In reality, Jesus shows us a way of life to be lived daily. I love to share and discuss with others, no matter if we disagree and yet accept one another as children of God and love each other like Jesus loves us.”

His son said, “He believed that and he lived that. He was as close to Jesus as any person I’ve come across.”

“Because of his boundless love for people, even after retirement, he remained in the service of the Lord — helping those in times of need, counseling, and performing an occasional baptism, wedding, or funeral,” his family wrote in a tribute. “He was able to continue doing it in his ‘way’ — the way that attracted so many to him.”

His son concluded, “He thought about others more than himself. He was just a great guy.”


Rev. James K. Hilton Sr. is survived by his son, James K. Hilton Jr. and his wife, Kim, of McDonald, Pennsylvania; his daughter, Lori Crawford and her husband, Doug, of Baldwinsville, New York; his six grandchildren — Kimberly Cronin, Michael Cronin, Andrew Crawford and his wife, Alexa, Heather Manning and her husband, Matt, Nicole Hilton and Natalie Hilton; his six great-grandchildren — AJ and Sophia Rubino and Owen, Wyatt, Ethan, and Carys Crawford; and several nieces and nephews.

His wife, Marjorie, died before him, as did his daughter, Susan, and brother, Graemer.

A memorial service will be held at 11 am Saturday, May 18, in St. John’s Lutheran Church at 140 Maple Ave. in Altamont.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. John’s Lutheran Church, 140 Maple Avenue, Altamont, NY 12009.


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