Hill recalled as farmer, neighbor, political patriarch

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011
— Gordon Hill was a farmer and a conservative—a man who once plowed his fields in rural Janesville with horses, steadfastly resisting use of the modern tractor.

Hill also was a political patriarch in Rock County, leading a public life for decades as a Rock County Board member and chairman, among other local elected posts. He raised dairy cattle and cash crops by day; by night he donned a jacket and a necktie to craft policy in the chambers of county government.

In photographs, Hill’s smile seems to tug at the left corner of his mouth. His eyes glint with intelligence, their corners lined like furrows in plowed fields.

Hill, farmer and public servant, died Thursday at Edgerton Care Center. He was 93.

Hill served on the Rock County Board from 1963 to 1998, and in those years he missed only a few meetings. Most of those times, he was in the hospital.

At county board meetings, Hill always wore a sport coat and necktie, and he would stand whenever he addressed the board chairman. Those were Hill’s ways, and they showed he was a consummate public servant and a gentleman, Rock County Administrator Craig Knutson said.

“It reflected his respect for the institution of county government and also for the people that he represented. It was old fashioned respect—respect for everybody on the county board and the county staff as well,” Knutson said.

As a county employee, Knutson worked with Hill from 1979 until Hill’s final year on the board in 1998. He knew Hill as a humble, intelligent man who always tried to stand up for both rural and urban people in Rock County.

“I’m representing rural interests, but I’m also representing the county and have to be open-minded,” Hill said in a January 1987 Gazette profile. “You can’t argue an issue by saying it will be bad for farmers or you’re going to get beaten down. You have to talk about its effect on the small businessman.”

It’s a line in semantics that was always clear to Hill, and it showed, Knutson said.

Hill worked in the 1970s in urban and rural planning and farmland conservation, both on the La Prairie Town Board, where he served for 44 years, and on the county board. He also served on the Rock County Farm Bureau, the Rock County Fair Board and numerous state dairy organizations.

“Gordon was a stickler for trying to keep this place rural” during times when development plans were coming from inside and outside the community, said town of La Prairie farmer Alan Arndt.

“I would challenge you to find a situation where Gordon didn’t try to protect the rural citizens of La Prairie,” Arndt said.

Hill also was an ardent supporter of senior services, pushing for the county to develop and maintain a quality nursing home operation. And he showed how he valued education as elected director of the one-room Van Allen School. He used to bring home agendas and budgets for his three children to read.

“We live government around here pretty strong,” Hill said of his family in an interview.

In a 1974 Gazette interview, Hill explained with pride the politics of being a good neighbor. He said it’s about knowing few strangers and even fewer enemies.

“Rural people have a special attitude toward acquaintance. They are quick to help and cooperate with their neighbors. I like to remain on a first-name basis with much of my community. In fact, if someone calls me ‘mister,’ I know that I am not popular with that person,” Hill said.

Last updated: 5:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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