By Christina Whiting
Darlene Hildebrand left a middle management corporate job in Sioux Falls, S.D. in search of a life that was more akin to her personal ideals of peace, compassion, joy and forgiveness. When she visited Homer, she found what she was looking for.
“My corporate job was feeding my pocketbook — the practical side of my life,” she said, “but not the emotional, mental and spiritual sides.”
Hilderbrand had a career rich in diverse experience, spanning the nonprofit and business sectors, with a focus on management and human resources. She was the director of a number of nonprofit organizations and spent more than 12 years as a human resource professional and social worker.
“These jobs were both rewarding and challenging,” she said. “While working with children and family services, I learned I couldn’t superimpose my values in a situation and learned to not make judgments on what I was seeing.”
It was from these jobs and this life that Hilderbrand decided to leave, in search of a community that was more in alignment with her personal value system.
“I was looking to live in a place that would feed my soul,” she shared.
In the summer of 1992, Hildebrand traveled from South Dakota to Alaska with her mother and stepfather. Her father and brothers were living on the Kenai Peninsula, and she planned to stay in Alaska for the summer and then spend time traveling through New Zealand.
“I found Homer to be a community where people are still involved and care for each other,” she shared. “I also fell in love with the natural beauty.”
Her soul being fed by both the people and the place, Hilderbrand wove her life into the fabric of Homer. She found work that inspired her with the nonprofit organization, “Hospice of Homer.” She started as a volunteer bereavement group facilitator, and was then hired as the Hospice Services Coordinator. Since 2002, she’s served as the organization’s executive director.
“Hospice has been a perfect fit for me,” she said. “We get to be with people as they experience difficult times in their life; times that also offer the opportunity for healing through love, compassion and reconciliation.”
Love and compassion are qualities that Hilderbrand admires in others and works hard to nurture in herself.
“Gandhi inspired my involvement in peace movements,” she said. “I’ve been involved in the Vietnam peace movement and the Central America peace movement, and I’ve stood with Women in Black (standing for peace and justice) since before the war in Afghanistan in 2001.”
She was also a founding member of “Kindness without Borders,” a local community group that promoted kindness by using education, community action and connection across countries as a powerful force for peace and justice. Hilderbrand also participates in mediation work, bringing disputing parties together to clear up misunderstandings and reach resolutions.
In addition to her passion for hospice work and peace work, Hilderbrand also loves to read, walk, hike, play bridge and watch foreign films. She also has a special place in her heart for dogs.
“Throughout my life, beginning with my childhood dog Lady, my animal companions have taught me thatit doesn’t matter who we love, only that we love,” she explained. “I remember reading a book that talked about how the way we treat our animals is the way we will eventually treat other human beings. We are all connected, and what hurts one, hurts us all.”
Hilderbrand’s first dog in Homer was Raphael Maria.
“Raphael taught me a lot about the joy of living,” she said, “as well as the ability to stay present when a loved one is in pain and you can do nothing but be lovingly present.”
Today, the love joy of her life is BodhichittaRose, a black Lab/border collie mix.
“Bodhi is a very affectionate dog that is teaching me about patience and acceptance,” she said.
Expanding her view of herself and the world around her is important to Hilderbrand; as such, she takes occasional trips abroad.
“In 1994, I read a small travel book called ‘Journey to Ladakh’ by Andrew Harvey,” she said. “After reading this book, I knew I would travel to India.”
Three years later, Hilderbrand participated in a 10-day silent Buddhist Retreat in Bodh Gaya. After the retreat, she traveled the country.
“I fell in love with India for many reasons, including the beauty, spirituality, diversity and the rawness,” Hildebrand explained. “Nothing is hidden in India. All of life presents itself, including death, illness and poverty, as well as joy, music, color and delicious food. There is also an incredible diversity of wealth, food, spiritual approaches, architecture, art, geography and cultures. It is a complete sensory adventure. ”
This November, Hilderbrand will make her second pilgrimage to India, where she visited for the first time 16 years ago.
“I return again because India calls to me,” she said. “There is a deep connection which words cannot explain.”
For Darlene Hilderbrand, joy comes from cultivating a life of peace, compassion and forgiveness. The way isn’t always easy, but there’s no path she’d rather walk.
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