The Madison community celebrated the retirement of Edith Hilliard, after 50 years of employment, on Wednesday night, Oct. 30, at the Brassworks Building of the Goodman Community Center. It was a packed house as people came out — young, old and in-between — to shower Hilliard with cards, gifts, stories, memories and well-wishes.

“I just felt very honored and humbled and very blessed to have so many people there,” Hilliard tells Madison365. “You know, most people don’t see anything like this. When you die and you have a memorial service, everybody says great things about you. I feel blessed that I was here and that I was sitting there with all of these people I loved. And the things people had to say really touched my heart.”

Two of Hilliard’s great loves are Halloween and the color purple and attendees at her retirement party were requested to wear either – or both.

Edith Hilliard celebrates her retirement with her son and daughter-in-law and her grandchildren.

A sign was made for Hilliard that said:

  • Fifty years of employment
  • 13,000-plus days in office
  • Hundreds of meetings
  • Thousands of phone calls
  • Unforgettable memories
  • Brilliant friends
  • Plenty of good times to come

It reflected her half-century of work in Madison. Back in 1969, she started at Wisconsin Power and Light Company – Alliant Energy. She would later work at MPI, a global leader in the technology of fineblanking in Deerfield, before closing out her work career at Goodman Community Center on Madison’s near east side.

Edith Hilliard’s new purple luggage

“To be able to work at three different jobs and to have incredible bosses and a wonderful work environment for 50 years … that’s exceptional,” Hilliard says. “I’m just really able to say that it was a joy and I just feel really fortunate that I was able to work for 50 years and enjoy all of the jobs that I have and keep in contact with all of the people I’ve worked with over those years.”

She got a huge card from MPI signed by all of the staff. The Goodman Community Center presented her with purple luggage and a ticket to Washington, DC to go to the African-American Museum as her retirement gift.

“I’ve never been there before so I am very excited to go. My goal is to go to every state that has an African-American Museum. One museum in each state; that’s my goal,” Hilliard says. “And i was very happy about the purple luggage, too. As you know, that’s my favorite color and the luggage was state of the art. I will be traveling in style.”

Edith Hilliard with Becky Steinhoff, executive director of the Goodman Community Center

There were just as many people at the retirement party from the countless community organizations that Hilliard has been involved with over the years in Dane County such as Women in Focus Inc., the Wisconsin Women of Color Network, YWCA Board of Directors, Dane County Minority Affairs Commission, United Way of Dane County, YWCA’s Certified Nursing Assistance Program, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, and Suited for Success Program and much more.

Speakers spoke about Hilliard reflecting her work and her community work including her old bosses at Wisconsin Power and Light and MPI and Becky Steinhoff, executive director of the Goodman Community Center. People from Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Monona Terrace, and Women In Focus, Inc — three places that Hilliard has volunteered her services for decades — also spoke shared stories and praise for Hilliard’s service to the community.  

“The principal and his wife from my children’s elementary school [Lakeview Elementary] were there! He is now 92 and I’ve kept in contact with him over the years,” Hilliard says. “My kids were able to see their old principal and that was really cool. I felt blessed that he was able to come. 

“Standing up on the podium, it was overwhelming to see all of the people that were there. It was an incredible time,” she adds. “I just can’t say enough about the staff at Goodman. They sent me off well. And to be able to end my work career at a place like Goodman was just phenomenal. They are great people.”

Hilliard says that she will continue to volunteer at Olbrich Botanical Gardens and at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center where she has been a docent since it first opened up.  She is excited to be working with the Wisconsin Historical Society documenting her family history. Her family was one of the first African-American families in Madison according to the lineage that she has traced back 272 years.

Hilliard got home from her big retirement party at 8:30 p.m. that night, but she wasn’t ready to go to bed.

“I was opening gifts and cards until 12:30 p.m. at night. It was overwhelming. I got a lot of gifts and a lot of cards. They are sitting here in my living room as we speak,” she says. “It was such a joy to read the cards; every single card had a hand-written note in it which is really special.”

It was a rare late night for Hilliard, but, fortunately, she didn’t have to work in the morning. After 50 years of getting up early for work, at least she’s able to sleep in now. Right?  

“I’m still not able to sleep in yet. Maybe one day,” Hilliard laughs. “When you have been getting up at 6 a.m. for 50 years, that’s a really hard habit to break. You can’t turn that off.”