May 24, 2023
Frederick William "Ted" Hiller, 96, a long time La Conner resident, died in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Ted was born in Norwood, Massachusetts on March 11th, 1927, at the beginning of the Great Depression. Ted learned independence from a very young age, mostly raising himself due to family circumstances. Ted told stories of hitchhiking "the triangle" around Massachusetts for fun before he was even old enough to go to school. In 1937, at the age of 10, he witnessed the Hindenburg's final flight; he told stories of collecting hazelnuts from fallen trees in the midst of The Great New England Hurricane of 1938.
After World War II broke out, Ted dropped out of high school and fibbed about his age, joining the United States Navy in 1943. He served the remainder of the War fighting in the European Theater as a signalman and the first loader, second barrel of a quad-40. When the War ended, Ted finished high school at a school for veterans in Washington D.C., driving taxi to support himself. During this time his stepmother and father started the Hiller Airport (now Tanner-Hiller Airport) in Barre, Massachusetts where Ted learned to fly.
With diploma in hand, Ted drove to Mexico in his military surplus Jeep to attend Mexico City College. Ted had many adventures in Mexico; in 1949 he drove to Parícutin, tied a scarf around his face and climbed the actively erupting volcano because, well why not? Arriving in Mexico thinking "Buenas noches" meant hello, he left a fluent Spanish speaker and with a degree in Economics and Latin American Affairs.
Ted began working in Alaska, but continued to spend time in Mexico. Early in the 1950s, as scuba diving was just getting started as a sport, Ted bought the necessary equipment on his way to Acapulco. After reading the brief how-to manual, he walked into the Pacific Ocean and taught himself to dive. Ted's years of diving led to many adventures: he was once bitten by a moray eel in shark infested waters; another time he got lost in a cenote cave system in Hawaii. Back with his gear in Alaska he became one of the first body recovery scuba divers in the entire state. Ted passed his love of diving to his sons, all of whom learned to dive with similarly precarious training.
In Alaska Ted worked many jobs: lineman, bus driver, corrections officer. Here he started his most long-lived career when he joined a construction company working on the Northern Slopes. He worked as a stake-hop, equipment operator, foreman, superintendent, and eventually the head of Northwestern Construction. In March of 1964, when the 9.2 magnitude Great Alaskan earthquake hit, Ted was working on roads in Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. Cut off from his wife in Anchorage, unable to communicate, and with most bridges between Anchorage and Homer destroyed, Ted "commandeered" a small Cessna and its pilot to fly 200 miles and make sure she was ok. After the earthquake, he was heavily involved in the recovery efforts, rebuilding roads and other infrastructure.
Through his career in "dirt moving" Ted built roads, pipelines, airports, and military facilities in Alaska, Hawaii, and Japan. During this time in Alaska, Ted married Judith Engel and together they raised three boys: Jason, Kyle, and Ryan. Every winter, when construction slowed due to freezing, Ted would bundle up his family and travel, driving the Americas in a motorhome, heading to Washington DC for the Centennial celebrations, floating the Sacramento river in a houseboat.
In 1978, Ted moved the family to La Conner, Washington while he continued to work in Alaska. Ted commuted every week, flying to work in Anchorage Monday mornings then returning home every Friday. Many weekends would be spent exploring the San Juans on the family's sailboat the Sunkist. He did this until his first retirement, never missing any of his children's events. They were the first priority in his life. Even with his weekly commute, he was a fixture, helping with homework projects, making costumes, fishing, skiing, swimming, and the star cook on "pancake day."
After retirement Ted moved to Bend, Oregon, rented a small ranch with his Border Collie Wilkie and joined the Deschutes County Sheriff's Mounted Posse and Search and Rescue. One day, when in his 70s, while riding with his cousin Stacy along an embankment, his horse slipped in the snow and together they tumbled down into a creek-bed where Ted was temporarily trapped under his horse in the freezing water of the creek. After getting freed, Ted, with his frozen clothing, broken ribs, torn ear, battered horse and stunned cousin, stumbled home.
Ted left his mark on the people around Bend; if you visit the Tumalo Feed Company, stop and check out the plaque on the bar placed at his seat in his honor. Before moving back to Washington in 2009, Ted took part in an independent film called Big, in which he played a no-nonsense trail guide helping a fictional documentary crew in their search for Bigfoot.
He spent his last years in Washington enjoying family, not taking it easy, and playing his "winning system" at the Swinomish Casino. Ted passed away quietly on May 16, 2023 at the age of 96. He is survived by his three sons, Jason, Kyle, and Ryan, his seven grandsons, seven great-grandchildren, his ex-wife Judith, and many other friends and family. Once when asked what he would like people to remember about him, Ted replied, "Tell them I tried my best."
Ted's ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. You may offer your condolences and share memories of Ted to his family online at kernfuneralhome.com.