Thomas Hillesheim ~ 1937-2013
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
In the 40 years since Hoffman Estates High School opened, there have been only four principals. The first of the group, Thomas Hillesheim, who opened the school and built its foundation, passed away on Tuesday. He was 75.
"It's not easy to open a new high school," said Dennis Garber, who succeeded Hillesheim as principal and served for the next 21 years. "People in the area are still attached to the old one, but Tom worked hard at establishing credibility and bringing new innovations to the school.
"He laid a solid foundation," Garber added of the last high school built in District 211, "with a lot of good teachers that he hired and programs that he started, that allowed us to build on that."
In a sense, it was a transition for Hillesheim himself. As a graduate of Palatine High School, who went on to teach and coach at the school, before becoming an assistant principal at Fremd High School, he was a product of the northern part of Palatine Township High School District 211.
By all accounts, Hillesheim immersed himself in his new Hoffman Estates community. He not only oversaw all of the hiring of faculty and staff, but he was involved with the choosing of the school's mascot -- the Hawks -- and its colors, blue and orange.
He also worked to build consensus outside of the school, by holding coffees and knocking on doors in the neighborhood to meet with parents.
"He wanted to know if the school was meeting their expectations -- and meeting the needs of the community," says Theresa Busch, assistant superintendent for instruction in District 211, who served as an assistant principal under Hillesheim and succeeded Garber as principal.
Hillesheim led Hoffman Estates High School until 1981, when he accepted an administrative role at the district level in charge of building projects, where he stayed until retirement.
However, according to his colleagues, he remained in touch with his former school and returned on several occasions. Busch remembers inviting Hillesheim back to tour the school's new addition in 2007.
"We introduced him when we walked through a study hall, as the first principal of the school," Busch recalls, "and the students all applauded."
James Britton, current Hoffman Estates High School principal, invited Hillesheim to attend the seniors' honors' convocation two years ago. That was the last time Hillesheim visited the school.
Hillesheim is survived by his wife, Barbara, and children Lori (Ross) Raggio, Kristie (Jeff) Charles, Mark (Cindy) Hillesheim and Amy Hillesheim, as well as nine grandchildren.
Visitation will take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, before a 10:30 funeral Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church, 2515 W. Palatine Road in Inverness.