“He was like the epitome of an old newsroom editor, but with a real sense of humor and a real warm heart.” That's how former Arvada Sentinel reporter Joni Inman will remember her old boss, Dick …
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“He was like the epitome of an old newsroom editor, but with a real sense of humor and a real warm heart.”
That's how former Arvada Sentinel reporter Joni Inman will remember her old boss, Dick Hilker, who she came to know well while working with him for four years in the early 1990s.
Inman was one of countless young reporters, editors and others in Jeffco and beyond who Hilker came to know and befriend during his 40 years in Denver area newspapers, including over 30 as a reporter, editor, general manager and, for a time, part owner of the Jefferson Sentinel (the forerunner to the Lakewood Sentinel, now named the Jeffco Transcript). Hilker, who retired in 1991, died on Aug. 7 at 88.
Dave Perry, the current editor of the Aurora Sentinel newspaper who also started his career working under Hilker at the Arvada Sentinel, said he would always remember him as a “real character,” but one who was fiercely passionate about his role as a journalist and responsibility to mentor those getting started in his newsroom.
That approach to mentorship often came with a heavy dollop of tough love, although he was not one to do the screaming and waving his arms Ed Asner-type from the Mary Tyler Moore show, he said.
“He was actually the opposite of that,” said Perry. “If you came back to the newsroom and said 'I tried to ask the superintendent a question but he never came out of his office,' he would just look at you with this look that said `Oh yeah well it looks like you are going to have go to back, huh?' And you would just get the message right away.”
Hilker was born in California but moved to Denver with his family when he was 12. He wrote in his own obituary that he decided to be a journalist while attending Byers Junior High School, and points out that there may have been a “subliminal connection” because the school was named for the founder of Denver's first newspaper.
He worked part-time as a copy boy for The Denver Post and attended and wrote for the college newspaper at DU before landing his first full time newspaper job at the Jefferson Sentinel.
After five years covering sports at the Post, Hilker returned to the Sentinel to serve as the editor and general manager and remained with the chain through multiple ownership changes.
Although he would spend the latter part of his year in executive roles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (which bought the suburban Sentinel newspaper chain), he continued to write a beloved regular column.
“Those columns could be very poignant and kind of lecturing when he wanted them to be but they often ended with a punchline,” said Kevin Duggan, another Colorado journalist who got his start under Hilker and remained friends with him after moving to the Coloradoan newspaper in Fort Collins. “I would put him right up there with Art Buchwald, who was a syndicated columnist, and some of the other greats of his time.”
Barb Granica, who first met Hilker after he hired her to work at the Wheat Ridge Sentinel in 1987, said she has always appreciated the way Hilker made an effort to keep in touch with her and so many of the other reporters he came to know.
That mentality is reflected by his longtime newsroom nickname “Chief” which was bestowed upon him by a reporter because he “had a tribe that so many people were a part of.”
When asked for a favorite story of Hilker, Granica said Hilker is best captured less by any particular memory than by the sum of how he made her feel.
“I will remember him as someone who made me look good as a writer, valued as a friend and accepted into his family wholly and completely,” she said. “He saw me through decades of my life and many transitions and he was always there and always interested in what I was doing.”
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