Carol Hillenburg remembered.....
As many of you know, the gymnastics community lost one of its most gracious, skillful and influential founders in 1997. Former Texas State Chair and long time Region III Chair Carol Peace Hillenburg died in Houston, Texas after a long and arduous fight with cancer. Carol had recently celebrated her 50th birthday along with some of her close gymnastics friends at her home. Though too ill to get out of her bed, she was the usual delightful, witty and proper lady we have all known and loved for so many years. She joked that it was, "not normal to have so many folks, especially men, in her bedroom, but it would do this time".
Shortly after that party Carol's health took a drastic turn for the worst. Though she was valiant in her fight against the cancer, as well as in dealing with the difficult treatments for the disease she had been undergoing, both the disease and the therapy had taken a terrible toll. She was hospitalized, but continued to fight for life with all the dignity she or anyone could muster. She finally succumbed to the disease and died early on April 21, 1997. She was with her two daughters, Jill Hillenburg and Julie Comiskey, former Texas gymnasts and the reason for Carol's involvement in our sport. Also present were her two sisters and their families.
On Friday, April 25th many in the gymnastics community from Texas, Region III, other states, and the USA Gymnastics office joined together in Katy, Texas for a service to celebrate the joy, hope, love, kindness, and dignity that we were given a chance to share in through the life and person of Carol Hillenburg. Several hundred people from gymnastics, and Carol's sorority organization joined her family for a time of remembering the remarkable presence Carol had been in their lives and the powerful impact she had made on them and all those she knew.
Carol had insisted on characteristic style that the service be uplifting, and it was. Though there were tears, there was repeated laughter as we heard of Carol's delightful personality and care for family, her involvement and giving spirit from two sorority sisters, and of her Herculean efforts and gracious spirit from former State Chair Doug Fitzjarrel, who spoke for the gymnastics community. Carol had chosen several favorite hymns which we all sang. Carol had asked me, no instructed would be the better phrase, to deliver a message at the service saying, "don't be sad, don't be long-winded, don't brag about me, don't list what I've done,….". I wasn't sure hat she was going to allow me to say, but I promised I would try to meet her request.
Carol Hillenburg and the life she lived before and among us, left an indelible portrait of what she wanted me to say. Carol Hillenburg had, and wished for all she knew to have, a passion and exuberance for life. She believed that with all it brings us, with all its joys, struggles, victories, defeats, excitement, grief, repose, hardship, with all the twists and turns and unexpectedness, life is good, She believed we should live life fully, guard it passionately, serve relentlessly to make it better for all we know. She believed that not one moment should be given up in callous disregard for its sacredness, that every moment held hope and possibility, and all that could be gained from it should be wrung from it with all the might one could muster. Carol believed that are life should communicate the essential dignity that was God given in each person. She believed our job in life was to magnify that dignity in ourselves and in others. Carol's life, her work, her words, all these said to us, "Live life, it is good!"
I closed my message by saying that there was a passage in the bible that Carol loved and which described her essential character perfectly. It reads, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. These three things, among all things in life in which eventually pass away, these three things remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." This was Carol Hillenburg. It was her life lived out among us, and we are all, everyone, better for having her with us for the time we did. Now, while she finally is able to rest in heaven and watch us all her "children", she would have us live our lives in precisely the same manner, live our lives with passion, grace, dignity, and above all, with love.
Carol, we love you and miss you. Though you have gone on before us, we have your example to continue to lead and inspire us. May God's grace and peace be with you.
Members of Texas USAG Sate Administrative Committee gathered at the National Training Center to place a stone in the Walk of Fame honoring Carol Hillenburg. Carol served USAG as Texas State Chair and Region 3 Chairperson for many years before losing her fight against cancer.
Left to right: Larry McDonough, Diane Callison, Juergen Achtermann, Martin Parsley.