Jan. 21, 1929 – June 6, 2014
James M. Hilburger, longtime owner of Hilburger Hardware in Kenmore, died Friday at home in Colden after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 85.
Born in Buffalo, Mr. Hilburger was president of the McKinley High School class of 1947. He played guard on McKinley’s football team, which won four consecutive Harvard Cups from 1943 to 1946. After losing the first game in his freshman year, Mr. Hilburger’s Macks never lost again. He was twice named to The Buffalo Evening News All-High football team. McKinley capped a 7-0 record in 1946 by beating Burgard, 7-0, in the Harvard Cup final.
“The last game we played there were 23,000 people there,” Mr. Hilburger told The News in 1999. “They stood around the track, they were 15-20 deep. I can remember my father standing in the end zone because there weren’t any seats. It was right after the war, there were no college games; high school football was the biggest thing.”
Mr. Hilburger and his wife, Jean, were married in September 1947. He became a master licensed plumber and in 1954 founded Advanced Sewer Cleaning and Hilburger Hardware with his brother, Frank, who died in 2001.
Mr. Hilburger was also active in ice speed skating and served as president of the Niagara Frontier Speed Skating Association in the early 1960s. He began downhill skiing in 1968, a sport he enjoyed into his 80s. He served four terms as president of the Sitzmarker Ski Club in Colden.
With engineer and fellow skier Bob Collins, Mr. Hilburger designed and built one of the area’s first snow-making systems, which is still in use at the Buffalo Ski Club.
Mr. Hilburger was chosen to dedicate the new gymnasium at McKinley High in honor of his late coach, Phil Ackley, and was inducted in the first class of the Harvard Cup Hall of Fame in 2002.
He retired in 1987 and became an expert wood turner and member of the Western New York Woodturners.
Mr. Hilburger had a quote from newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck plastered on the machines in his wood and metal shop: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ ”
Survivors include his wife of 67 years; two sons, Jimmy and Tom; and two daughters, Lynn Huetter and Lori Miller.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 6441 Seneca St., Spring Brook.