Every weekday of every week of every month of every year for one half-century, Edith Hilliard has been waking up each morning and going to work in Madison. Today, that will all come to an end as the beloved executive assistant at the Goodman Community Center on Madison’s east side will work her last day. And it has left her both happy and sad.
“I will still be involved in the community because it’s something that I love to do,” Hilliard tells Madison365. “I will still be involved at Goodman, too, but instead of being an employee, I will be a volunteer.
“But, yes, it does seem really weird. I’ve been getting up every day for 50 years and going to work. Just the thought of not having to get up and go to work, that just seems strange,” Hilliard adds. “It’s so surreal.”
Is she all set to sleep in tomorrow morning for the first time in 50 years?
“It’s probably going to take me a while to do that,” Hilliard smiles. “Because I never even use an alarm clock. I just automatically wake up and start my day.”
Madison365 sat down with Hilliard, appropriately, in the Edith Lawrence-Hilliard Reception Lounge of Goodman’s Ironworks Building. Hilliard says that to be able to end her work career at the Goodman Community Center has truly been a blessing. She emphasizes the word “community.”
“It has been an amazing three years of witnessing what a profound impact Goodman has on the lives and futures of multiple generations,” Hilliard says. “Each day I was inspired, uplifted and grateful to be a part of this center. Equity, inclusion, compassion and caring are not just words here, they are deeply rooted at the core of this Community Center. I have had a life well lived.”
As Hilliard wraps up a half-century of employment today, she can’t help think about where it all began. Back in 1969, she started at Wisconsin Power and Light Company – Alliant Energy.
“I worked there for 30 years. All the while I was at Power and Light they sent me to school – so I was constantly going to school. I retired from there when I was only 50 years old. Then I started my own business in event planning,” she remembers. “I did that for three years. Then, Dr. [Floyd] Rose hired me to do event planning for him, so I worked for him for a couple of years. He was running the Supplier Development Council in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. So I was working with him planning the trade shows and business meetings.
After that, she worked at MPI, a global leader in the technology of fineblanking in Deerfield, before coming to Goodman Community Center.
“I really like to be around people and active in the community. I will still volunteer in the community and I will definitely still volunteer here,” Hilliard says. “On Fridays, I go over and I do the electric slide with the seniors. Now they want to know, ‘If you’re retiring, then when are you coming over here to do the electric slide?’ So I promised them once a month I would come over on Friday and do the electric slide with them.”
Throughout her impressive career, Hilliard has received numerous awards for her voluntary service – most notably the 2007 Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Award. She has also won the Meriter Hospital Spirit of Women Award, YWCA Women of Distinction and Outstanding Service Award, Ebony Expressions.
For many years, Hilliard has also volunteered at Olbrich Botanical Gardens and has been a docent at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center since it opened up. She will continue to do that.
“I was part of the grand opening planning for Monona Terrace. I’ve been there since the building has been open,” Hilliard says. “Being a docent there is so much fun. You meet people from all over the world that come specifically to see that building. So, to be able to talk about it with them is pretty cool.”
Hilliard, whose family was one of the first African-American families in Madison according to the lineage that she has traced back 272 years, has been heavily involved with her Madison community for 50 years. Hilliard has provided leadership and service to countless of organizations 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.
“Madison is so welcoming in order for you to get involved in the community. In larger cities, it’s probably hard to get on a board or to be really involved, but Madison is very welcoming for you to really get involved and do things,” she says. “One of the perks of it being a smaller city.”
But the city is not too small, either.
“Right. And, boy, Madison is getting bigger and bigger, that’s for sure. I’ve seen it. I’ve been here all my life. Just to see the transitioning of things that are happening is amazing,” Hilliard says. “When we were at Black Women’s Wellness Day this past Saturday, there were 600 African-American women in one room. When I was growing up here, there weren’t 600 African-American people here in the whole city! When I was at East High School (in the mid to late ’60s), there were three African Americans in the whole school … and now the entire school is majority-minority.
“It’s been a joy to see Madison grow and become more diverse over the years and to see the city change over time. That’s kinda cool,” she adds.
Likewise, she says she’s enjoyed watching Goodman Community Center grow over the years out of the old Atwood Community Center and adding the beautiful Ironworks and Brassworks buildings.
“We’ve had some good leadership here at Goodman. [Executive Director] Becky [Steinhoff] is absolutely amazing. I have never met a woman who cares so much about everyone,” Hilliard says. “She really takes the time. She has the passion and the love for this community center, and this community, in general.
“The number of people that we serve … the generations of people that we serve in this community center is phenomenal. For me, at 71 years old, to be able to walk in this door and know what we do on a daily basis … that’s just very uplifting for me,” she adds. “To see the little kids, the middle kids, the elderly, the high school kids. Everybody that’s involved in this community center and what we’ve been able to help them with their lives, it’s just been a real blessing for me to be here.”
On her last day of work today, everybody at the Goodman Center will be wearing purple because that’s Hilliard’s favorite color. A celebration of Hilliard’s work accomplishments over the last 50 years will be held Wednesday, Oct. 30, 5-8 p.m., at Goodman.
“I’m really going to miss coming here every day because I’ll walk over to Ironworks [Building] and the kids will be walking in and they call me grandma. ‘Mornin’, grandma!’ I will miss that. I will miss the teenagers coming up and giving me a hug,” Hilliard says. “They call me grandma, too. I will miss that. I will miss seeing the kids on a regular basis. But, never fear, I will still see them.
“At 71, it’s time for me to go. I’m starting to get tired. I’m really looking forward to retirement,” she adds. “But don’t worry about me, I’m not going to be bored. I have plenty to keep me busy.”