MISSOULA — When Jim Hilleboe traces the steps that led to his success as a businessman in Billings back to their genesis, he finds the four years he spent at the University of Montana in the mid-60s.
And it wasn’t just the in-class education. Sure, Hilleboe spent each semester pursuing a degree in business, but during the summers he would return to his hometown and help a friend who was in home construction.
Those two paths — the education and the work experience — converged after his graduation in 1967 and led him to start Hilleboe Construction.
To give back to the school that gave him his business foundation and befitting someone who worked in construction, Hilleboe, 69, has signed a $1.5 million bequest to the University of Montana that will be earmarked for facility improvements for Grizzly Athletics.
“Most of my roommates while I was a student were football players, and I had friends who were basketball players, so I became a rabid Griz fan, and that hasn’t changed,” said Hilleboe.
“I’m solo and have been pretty frugal, I guess, and I don’t live a high lifestyle, so it became my plan to give back to the school I graduated from.”
When Hilleboe’s bequest is realized, the funds will be used for the athletics facilities project determined to have the highest priority.
“We certainly appreciate Jim’s willingness to step up and make a provision in his estate to help support us in our ongoing need for facility improvements,” UM Director of Athletics Kent Haslam said.
“There is no way we could function without such valuable private support, and estate planning is certainly a key part of the long-term success of our department. It’s a way people can support us and leave a legacy long after they’ve passed away.”
Hilleboe was born in South Dakota, but his parents, Strand and Edith, moved to Billings one year later. He’s lived in the state the last 68 years, “so I consider myself a Montanan,” he says.
Strand Hilleboe was the president of Lee Newspapers in the state and the publisher of the Billings Gazette. Edith, who passed away in March 2013 at the age of 100, was a housewife who raised Jim, his older brother, Jack, and his younger sister, Susan.
Dr. Jack Hilleboe practiced in the Kalispell area and was a longtime Griz football season-ticket holder until his death in April 2013. Susan, like Jim a UM grad, lives in Austin, Texas.
With experience in home construction from his summertime work and armed with a degree in business from UM, Hilleboe and a partner started Hilleboe Construction.
“I kind of knew the ins and outs from working those summers, so I just went from there,” says Hilleboe, who only had a business partner for a short period of time before venturing out on his own.
Hilleboe Construction moved on to apartments, condominiums and light commercial work until the physical nature of the job caught up with Hilleboe. He eventually moved into real estate, rentals and mini-storage.
“The thing I enjoyed about the construction business was that you could look over your shoulder at the end of the day and see what you’d done,” Hilleboe says.
Of course the nature of bequests is that the donor will never get to look over their shoulder and see the results of their generosity. They are more about seeds than spoils.
But future Griz student-athletes — just a few generations removed from those Hilleboe shared houses with — will benefit. And they’ll be able to see and appreciate what Jim Hilleboe has done.
— Montana Sports Information