Hintz left large imprint on the village he adored
The late Don Hintz, in 2004, with a 264-year-old Covenant Village clock he helped restore. ~ Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:43AM
NORTHBROOK — Don Hintz, known for his love of local history and the Northbrook Historical Society, died Feb. 17. He was 91.
Hintz led the fundraising for the 1975 move of the historic old Northfield Inn from Waukegan Road to 1776 Walters Ave., where it became the home of the Northbrook Historical Society. He also chaired the 1976 Northbrook Heritage Committee, preparing the village’s celebration of the national bicentennial.
Hintz created the popular historical slide show “Shermerville Then ... Northbrook Now,” for the Heritage Committee, which he and former Northbrook School teacher, the late Ray Etherton, for decades presented regularly to school children and community groups.
He worked 42 years for Culligan International, rising from draftsman to vice president of what was then Northbrook’s biggest business. He traveled the world for the firm, making 62 crossings of the Atlantic and 11 of the Pacific.
“He was a sort of self-taught builder and engineer,” his son Jim Hintz said.
“I think he was very instrumental in building Culligan, and very instrumental in building the community.”
After retirement, Don Hintz completed the “The People of Culligan,” the 687-page history of the company that was for years said to be the largest collection of Northbrook history, too.
When “Northbrook, Illinois: The Fabric of our History,” was published prior to the village’s 2001 centennial, it contained Hintz’ chapter covering the period of 1923 to 1945, and his introduction.
One of Hintz’ subjects in the Northbrook history book was the long-neglected practice of giving away Scarlet Flame Zinnia flowers at Northbrook Days. Inspired, he raised many of the zinnia plants to produce thousands of seeds, which were given away in the centennial Northbrook Days. Along the way, the zinnia subspecies was named Northbrook’s official flower.
Hintz’s volunteer relationship with the annual Civic fund-raiser goes back to his high school days, when he used to haul the lumber for the bandstand and the booths to the fairgrounds.
He was in the first graduating class of Northbrook High School, in 1939. So was the late Gladys Potter, his high school sweetheart and future wife. They raised two children, Betty (Richard) Hemmeter and Jim, in Northbrook.
Hintz was a fourth-generation resident of Northbrook, going back to 1856, when his great-grandfather Peter Hinz moved to the area.
Don Hintz, however, lived in Iowa until 1933, when he was 12, and his father Cyrus bought a small Techny Road farm, he told Pioneer Press in 1997, when he won the Foundation Award, The Northbrook Civic Foundation’s highest honor for volunteering and community service.
He learned to calm the hens on the 17-acre chicken farm by whistling to them, he’d later say.
“He liked to work,” Jim Hintz said. “When he was a kid, they couldn’t afford to call a plumber or an electrician, so you learned to do it yourself.”
Don Hintz built his own Northbrook home. “Every night after he came from work, he had dinner and then would be down in the basement working on something for the house,” his son said.
“He would never think of hiring somehow to do that work.”
After working on the farm for nine years, Hintz was hired by the Culligan Zeolite Company, then headquartered at 1856 Walters Ave.
In the early days of World War II, Hintz and his boss Emmett Culligan set up a silica gel factory in California, producing the compound that kept guns and aircraft engines moisture- and rust-free before use. Later, after joining the Army Crops of Engineers, he set up water filtration systems to support the Allied invasion of France.
He redesigned several pieces of company equipment, and wrote new manuals, inspiring him to take up writing as a hobby. In the 1970s, he compiled the memories of the late Millie Abegg, the station agent for the old Dundee Road station of The Skokie Valley leg of the North Shore Line, closed in 1965.
He also wrote a small book about a 1971 business trip he took to France, accompanied by his father. They visited the wheat field Cy Hintz tried to cross with seven other soldiers in 1918. Machine guns raking the farm had taken the lives of the rest of the platoon.
After continuing to explore his father’s World War I experiences, and after seeking his family’s German roots on the same trip, the pair returned home. Shortly afterward, Hintz became involved in the history of his own community.
A skilled woodworker, Hintz was uninterested in selling his work, but instead filled his beloved Northfield Inn with furniture and ornament. He also did considerable free work for the Village Presbyterian Church, and for the Holly Fair operated by Covenant Village, where he moved in 2003.
“What’s my time worth?” he asked in 1997. “I finished a chair, and figure this thing took me 43 hours to do. At $10 an hour, that’s $430. It doesn’t look like it’s worth $430 to me. So why don’t I just give it to someone who can use it?”
He will be remembered at the Village Presbyterian Church, 1300 Shermer Road, Northbrook, where he was the longest-continuing member, on Friday, March 1 at 10:30 a.m.