Doug Hilby and Bernadette Berning’s wedding festivities began with an 8:30 a.m. Mass and ended with a dance that lasted until 1 a.m. the next morning.

They aren’t entirely sure how they met — Doug guesses it might have been a ball game or a dance — but the memory of that 1953 wedding remains firm.

“She was a speedy center-fielder for the girls’ softball team — undefeated, by the way,” Doug said. “Our group of boys from Menominee (Ill.) always seemed to be chasing after the Sinsinawa (Wis.) girls.”

Doug proposed to Bernadette, who grew up in Sinsinawa, with a steak dinner at a restaurant in Dickeyville, Wis.

For the first two years of their marriage, Doug and Bernadette worked the farm Doug had grown up on in Menominee.

That ended when Doug was drafted in 1955.

“I was running the farm because my dad had tuberculosis and he couldn’t do heavy work,” Doug said. “I was actually the farmer until we got pulled off the farm because I was in the service. Dad eventually sold it.”

After six months at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Doug was sent to Heidelberg, Germany, where he worked in microwave radio repair.

The young family bought a car and drove to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. For work, Doug traveled to the top of Königstuhl in the Odenwald Mountains using an elevator he compares to Dubuque’s Fourth Street Elevator.

“We were not sorry to have experienced that,” Bernadette said.

After 14 months abroad, the Hilbys moved to Dubuque.

“We went over with two boys and came back with three,” Doug said.

For the first few years, Doug ran a television sales and service business out of their home on Woodlawn Street. Eventually, he’d set up Doug’s TV Sales & Service on University Avenue. Bernadette was a homemaker.

Doug had grown up with one sibling, Bernadette with 10.

“I inherited a lot of in-laws,” Doug said.

Along the way, Doug and Bernadette ended up with a big family of their own.

The first decades of their marriage were marked with an ever-growing family of six sons and three daughters — Steve, Jim, Michael, Kevin, Cheryl, Patrice, Lisa, Brian and Chuck.

Steve Hilby, the couple’s oldest child, recalls sitting in his college dorm when his father called to say his youngest brother, Chuck Hilby, had been born.

As Steve remembers hearing it, Doug drove Bernadette to the hospital in his television service van, went out to take a service call and then returned to meet his ninth child.

As soon as school let out each year, the Hilbys would pile into a camper van and set off on a vacation.

Sixth-born daughter Patrice Brimeyer recalls one year when the family took off to California for 21 days. Though the full van didn’t have air conditioning, the memory is a fond one for Brimeyer.

The regular road trips left an impact on Steve.

“That stuck with us,” Steve said. “That’s something I’ve done with my own family.”

Bernadette enjoys photography and is an avid gardener. Over the last three years, Doug has helped her in the garden. Doug has also taken up woodworking in recent years.

According to Doug, Bernadette never forgets a birthday or anniversary, not just for their nine children, but also for 36 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.

Bernadette said Doug enjoys fixing things. Doug said that Bernadette is a good cook.

“My mother is very social,” Brimeyer said. “My dad loves information. ... He has an engineer’s mind. My mother has a relationship with everyone and a good story with everyone.”

The Hilby children agree that education and faith are important to Bernadette and Doug.

“They complement each other very well,” eighth-born Brian Hilby said. “They’ve a lot of patience and kindness and faith ... mix it all together and it comes out pretty well.”

Recommended for you