Cover photo for Carolyn J. (Charleston)  Hilgart's Obituary
Carolyn J. (Charleston)  Hilgart Profile Photo

Carolyn J. (Charleston) Hilgart

d. October 30, 2022


Carolyn J. Hilgart died peacefully in her home of nearly 60 years, surrounded by family, on October 30, 2022. She is survived by her sons, John and Josh Hilgart, her daughters-in-law, Liz Griff and Heather Hilgart, and her granddaughters, Nora and Emma Hilgart-Griff. She is predeceased by her husband, Art Hilgart. Carolyn was impossible to classify a genuine renaissance woman. She was a hard-nosed, idealistic, community activist. She was an artist. She was a scholar. She was elegant, beautiful, and patient. And she had a wry sense of humor. Born on the south side of Chicago, Carolyn was a tomboy who fished with her dad and traveled with a group of teenage girlfriends known as the Independent. She met Art while working at J. Walter Thompson in Chicago, and they became regulars at the city's jazz clubs and movie theaters in the 1950s. When Art got a job at Kalamazoo's Upjohn Company in 1957, she immediately fell in love with the town, where she spent the rest of her life. She and Art worked as a team in the Kalamazoo community from the moment they arrived. Carolyn was instrumental in starting the first local pre-Kindergarten program, participating in long-range city planning through the "Kalamazoo 2000" initiative, and helped organize the 1964 campaign that elected Kalamazoo's first Democrat to the U.S. House, Paul H. Todd, Jr. She and Art were active in battling for reproductive care, supporting local arts and theatre, and supporting those in need. At the age of 24, Carolyn designed the landmark mid-century modern Winchell house in which she and Art raised their family. She was a carpenter who built furniture and fixtures whenever they were needed. She was a landscape artist and gardener, who singlehandedly dug out hillsides, created complex, terraced outdoor spaces, and built patio decks well into her seventies. Carolyn was also an adept visual artist, creating remarkable drawings, paintings, and prints. She was a fashion designer, making her own fabulous outfits from the 1950's into the 1980's. In her final years, she built a gigantic, N-scale model railroad, with a downtown, suburbs, and a countryside. In her early fifties, Carolyn earned her B.A. at Western Michigan University, graduating with honors in History, while also delighting in Astronomy and Archaeology. And through it all, Carolyn was a consummate homemaker, chef, household bookkeeper and loving mother and grandmother. We will miss her as the warm center of our extended family's life for nearly 60 years. Her sons, their spouses, and her grandchildren are grateful to have been able to spend the last 14 years in Kalamazoo with her. While Art and Carolyn are fondly remembered by many in the community, few of their close friends survive. We are honoring her in a private gathering. However, those who were impacted by her presence and wish to pay respects are encouraged to donate to the local charitable organization, Mothers of Hope, in her name.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Carolyn J. (Charleston) Hilgart, please visit our flower store.


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