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Just Golden

Mary Burich | April 28, 2021

People | Pride of the Jersey

David Hiltner celebrates 50 years

You know those websites that tell you what happened the year you were born? They work for service anniversaries as well, including rare 50-year ones. So, if you wanted to have a feeling for what the world was like when David Hiltner was hired for his first and now lifelong job, you could learn that Richard Nixon was in the White House while Paul McCartney and other members of the Beatles were venturing out on their own, a new Dodge Charger sold for around $3,600, and gas for it would set you back about 10 bucks.

Indeed, 1971 was a long time ago, and 50 years of giving your all to a job you love is a noteworthy accomplishment.

“I quit school and started working; it’s the only job I’ve ever had,” David says. “I worked with my dad and mom and then went on my own. You had to start working if you wanted the ice cream truck to stop [at your house].”

David was 16 when he signed on with the company that is now under the banner of Jennie-O, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods. He and a handful of team members – most of them relatives – manage the live-production site in Grove City, Minn.

Among his trusted co-workers is his wife, Alice. She’s been his life partner for 46 years; his work partner for nearly 42.

The Hiltner family

“We see each other 24/7, other than when our eyes are closed,” she says, offering advice for a harmonious work and home life. “There’s a lot of give and take,” Alice says. There’s also an understanding of who’s in charge. “David might be the manager, but Alice is the boss,” she laughs.

Along with Alice, three of the Hiltners’ five children – Katie, Kim and Laurie – work for the company. Grandchildren will soon come of age, which gives rise to a lot of good-natured discussions on who will carry the banner for the third generation. It’s a pretty safe bet that someone will.

“We kind of grew up with it,” says Laurie, who signed on as a team member when she turned 16. “When I was old enough, I was out there with them.”

Father and mother agree their family’s closeness – at home and at work – is something special. Something to be cherished.

“We’ve always worked together, and the kids have always been beside us, so maybe that made a difference,” Alice says.

Indeed, the family has long enjoyed being tightly knit. Alice recounts weekly grocery-shopping trips when the kids were young. Everyone went, and each offspring was entitled to choose one item to add to the cart. “If they were good, we took them out to eat,” Alice says. “We were there all together.”

The children no doubt noticed their parents’ dedication to work and love of the outdoors. David has rarely missed a day of work in five decades, and when the Hiltners went camping, someone would return to the farm each day to check on the animals, driving back to the campsite later to resume family time.

David’s commitment didn’t escape Hormel Foods team members either. He was recently awarded the Pride of the Jersey distinction in honor of a half century of exemplary service.

Would I do it again? Yeah. In a heartbeat.

David Hiltner

David grew up near Hawick, Minn., lived several other places and eventually returned to his hometown. He and Alice relocated to Regal, Minn., six years ago, handing the keys to the “family home” to Laurie. She now lives on the farm – in the house of her childhood.

David never expected his first job would be his last, but he has no regrets, to say the least. It has been a conduit to a rich and wonderful life with Alice, their five children and eight grandkids. Plus, he gets to work outside, a passion that began on his father’s farm more than 60 years ago.

Farming is “big time different” now, David and Alice agree. Tasks that were once manual and time-consuming are now computerized. Admittedly change is hard, but once they learn and incorporate new technology, “it’s worth a million,” David says. What has never changed is the pride David has in his work for Hormel Foods.

“Would I do it again?” he asks. “Yeah. In a heartbeat.”

“It’s been a fun ride,” Alice says.