Donald Eugene Hickey passed away on 7 August 2019 in Libertyville, Illinois, with his loving family nearby. He was born on 21 December 1926 in Waukegan, Illinois, to William Clinton Hickey and Velma Viola Loy. Owing to his birth on the winter solstice, he was long known in jest as “Old Man Winter.”
Don was raised in Waukegan with his siblings, William, Norma, and Vernon.
Like so many of his generation, Don was shaped by the events of the world at large. He was born during the heart of the Prohibition, though he did not come to understand its significance until bragging at Sunday school that just like Jesus, his father had an aptitude for turning ordinary products into alcohol.
Like most Americans, the Hickeys were squeezed at times by the Great Depression, though they remained fortunate enough to live in the same bungalow on Fulton Street. Christmases were tight, with only an orange or tangerine and a coin in his stocking.
Despite that humble background, Christmas was his favorite holiday. Christmas Eve remained the most important family gathering until the final year of his life.
When World War II came, Don was ready as soon as he was old enough to sign up. Undeterred by the fact his brother Bill had been shot down over Italy and taken prisoner by the Nazis, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces four months shy of his 18th birthday. He trained at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Miss. and obtained the rank of technical sergeant.
Don was on his way to Chanute Field in Champaign when the first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. He remained grateful to Harry Truman for ending the war early. Truman’s biography was a longtime mainstay on his coffee table.
Upon his discharge in 1946, he used the GI Bill to attend flight school and became a licensed pilot. He and a friend flew their two-seat aircraft from Waukegan to places like Memphis, New Orleans and Miami. Thanks to an out-of-date chart, they also mistakenly flew into military airspace near Savannah, Ga. and did not receive a warm welcome despite their veteran status.
Don maintained a pilot’s sense of style in his years after leaving the USAAF. Gertrude McBride was so unreasonably impressed by the fact his bomber-style jacket had pictures of geese on the liner – and real goose feathers inside – that their conversation turned into a date.
Don and Gert were married in Waukegan on 8 May 1954. They raised three daughters there, Donna, Lydia, and Debra.
All three girls were born in the first week of May. Once they had grown up and moved out of the house, one of his favorite traditions during their birthday week was to pick them up and drive to a surprise restaurant for their mutual birthday dinner. He would never reveal the location until pulling into the parking lot.
Don worked at Abbott Laboratories for 33 years.
Upon retirement, he dedicated his time to maintaining a bluebird trail near the Des Plaines River in Gurnee and Libertyville. This was a natural extension of his lifelong love of nature. He loved watching PBS and reading National Geographic in addition to visiting Waukegan Harbor and Lake Michigan.
Other than his time in the service and in a nursing home in his final years, he lived in Waukegan for his entire life. He was proud of his hometown, and enjoyed name-dropping the likes of Jack Benny, Ray Bradbury and Otto Graham. Even as the demographics of the city changed dramatically around him, he had no interest in living elsewhere or treating neighbors with anything but respect.
Don outlived his favorite car brand, Pontiac, by 10 years. Both were born in 1926.
Don is survived by daughters, Donna Robinson (Jim Lee), Lydia Sproull (Dave), Debra Mieszala (Mike); grandchildren, Trajan McGill (Sarah), Solon McGill (Jodi), Kendra Evans (Nacy), Alexander Hickey, Clayton Mieszala, Charlie Robinson (Kristen); step-grandchildren Christopher Sproull, Amanda Lello, and Sara Harvey (Jason); great-grandchildren Nacy, Lakin, Cole, Lane, and Presley Evans; Scott and Daehler McGill; Jordan and Connor Robinson; step-great-grandchildren Jonathan and Brooke Harvey, and Matthew Sproull and Freddie Scharr; his brother Vernon of Florida, and a large extended family.
His family will miss his loyalty, kindness and trademark dry wit.
Don was predeceased by his parents, brother William Hickey, sister Norma Johnson, his former wife Gertrude McBride, and a special friend, Wilma Kurtz. Coincidentally or not, Gertrude passed away two years to the day before Don.
Visitation is from Noon to 3 PM, with a memorial service beginning at 3 PM, on Saturday, 17 August 2019, at Kristan Funeral Home, 219 W Maple Ave, Mundelein.