RAPID CITY | On May 31, 2019, the world lost a remarkable man. Ray Hillenbrand peacefully passed away in Rochester, MN, from a progressive lung disease, surrounded by his family and close friends.
He was an exemplary son and husband, an extraordinary father and grandfather, and was deeply devoted to his parents, wife, children and grandchildren. He committed himself to making his community a better place, wherever he lived, with his ultimate goal to make Rapid City the most caring city of its size in the United States. Through his selfless determination and vision, he was able to see the best and bring out the potential in people and places. He was passionate about realizing the possibilities he saw. While he knew how to enjoy life for himself to the fullest, often fishing, spending time with family and traveling the world, he never lost sight of his purpose: to help others.
He had a very rare combination of qualities that drove his engagement with his family and community: He was brilliant, kind, compassionate, had a huge heart; was selfless, generous, a visionary, a great listener and a humble leader.
He was born August 28, 1934, in Batesville, IN, to Mildred (Johnson) and John W. Hillenbrand. He was the third of four children. He earned a bachelor of science degree in Mathematics from Denison University in Granville, OH, in 1956, where he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, the Phi Society, an honorary academic society, the Blue Key, an honorary extracurricular society, and Phi Delta Epsilon, the honorary journalistic society. In 1957, he earned a bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
He went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Enid, OK. He was on active duty from 1957-1960 where he achieved the rank of First Lieutenant on active duty and Captain if called back into active duty. He met and married Larita Ewing in 1959, while stationed in Enid. They moved to Batesville, IN, to raise their family before moving to Rapid City in 1980.
His business experience after the Air Force included a diverse field of involvement. From 1960-1977, while living in Batesville, he was in active management at Hillenbrand Industries. He was Senior Executive Vice President, a member of the Office of President, member of the Executive Committee and member of the Board of Directors at the time of leaving active management. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
He bought the Triple Seven Ranch near Fairburn, SD, in 1972, before moving to Rapid City in 1980. While he was not a rancher in his day-to-day life, he had the vision to convert the cattle ranch to bison and manage it holistically. His daughter Mimi Hillenbrand manages the ranch today.
Upon settling in Rapid City, Ray and Rita started Prairie Edge and he later opened Sioux Trading Post. Both of these endeavors are geared toward supporting the creation and promotion of Northern Plains Indian art. Until 1996, Ray also managed casinos for Native American Tribes as well as owned and operated a gaming business in Deadwood, SD.
Ray has always been civic minded and his service has been broad, in Indiana ranging from serving on the Chamber of Commerce, to serving of the board of a local vocational/technical college to winning the Silver Beaver Award for his involvement with the Boy Scouts.
In Rapid City, he maintained his civic involvement by serving as a member of the Board of Governors of St. Martin’s Academy and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Foundation. He was a past Chairman of the Board of the Rushmore Health Systems, which includes Rapid City Regional Hospital. Ray was a member of the 1990 Rapid City Mayor’s Special Economic Development Committee, a past member of the initial South Dakota Board of Economic Development of the REDI Fund, past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Rapid City YMCA, initial President and Board Chairman of Western South Dakota Catholic Foundation, Inc., a past member of the Finance Council of the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City and Chair of its Investment Committee. He was the founder and president of the Dakota Charitable Foundation, Inc.
Ray was past member of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Perhaps he was most passionate about the projects he was focused on for the last several years, projects that would create the heart and soul of Rapid City. He was the organizer and first Board Chairman of Destination Rapid City, which helped create Main Street Square, Memorial Park Promenade and Legacy Park. The ultimate project for him, the most important to him of all of his life’s goals, was the creation of Rapid City Collective Impact, of which he was the originator and formed the initial group to fund and coordinate Collective Impact. This effort resulted in the creation of OneHeart. With this final project, he envisioned Rapid City as being the most caring city of its size in the United States by trying to solve the problems of the most vulnerable members of the community and coordinate their care-giving needs and resources.
Ray was the 2014 Recipient of the George Award from the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce and the recipient of the Founder’s Award from Rapid City Catholic Social Services.
He is survived by his three daughters, Mimi Hillenbrand of Rapid City, Gretchen Hillenbrand of San Francisco and Heidi Hillenbrand of Mill Valley, CA; his son, John W. Hillenbrand II of Montana; grandchildren, Julian, Lola, William, Tilly, Andrea and John; and his brother, John A. Hillenbrand. He is pre-deceased by his wife, Rita; sister, Mitzi; and brother, Bill.
Visitation begins at 6 p.m., with a 7 p.m. Christian wake service and rosary recitation on Monday, June 10, at Blessed Sacrament Church.
Christian Funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11, at Blessed Sacrament Church with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput as the celebrant. Interment will follow at Mount Calvary Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established in Ray’s memory for OneHeart through this link: http://bit.ly/OneHeartRC