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Hildegard Maria Dutton was born on September 9, 1924 in Vienna, Austria. Her parents, Franz and Hilda Seif, owned a neighborhood restaurant from which she snuck sips of wine and her first cigarette. This resulted in her enrollment in a weekday private boarding school and then off to a parochial high school and business college. Young Hildegard was smart, beautiful, charming, and athletic with ambitious plans that world events would soon change. World War II cancelled her short distance sprinter Olympic dreams and her first job as Prince Von Furstenberg’s business secretary.
During the war, she was in charge of helping elderly apartment dwellers into a basement shelter during the nightly allied bombing runs. There were close calls. Her family fled to Salzburg, Austria where she was assigned jobs painting furniture and running a movie projector to entertain troops. After the war, she served as a nursing assistant at a U.S. Army hospital and then as secretary for a U.S. Army colonel. Her future husband, Command Sergeant Major Ellwood E. Dutton, also worked in this office and soon had her fired, so he would be permitted to date her.
In 1952, “Hildi” immigrated to America via Canada, married Ellwood, moved to Colorado Springs, CO, and gave birth to daughter Ruth the following year. Shortly afterwards, the Army sent Ellwood back to Korea and Hildegard was alone in a new country with a new baby, neither one of them speaking much English. When Ellwood returned, she became as U.S. Citizen (1956) and they were stationed for three-year tours of duty in Fort Leonard Wood, MO; Aschaffenburg, Germany; Fort Sill, OK; Nuremburg, Germany and finally Kansas City, MO. During these years, Hilda served as President of an NCO Wives Club; Worthy Matron of an Eastern Stars chapter; worked at the Post Exchange; enjoyed bowling, tennis, playing pinochle, raising Chow dogs and driving her turquoise Edsel wearing her matching turquoise suit.
In Kansas City, instead of “settling down,” Hildegard chose to start her 18-year career as a government clerk for GSA and the IRS. Her new car was a Mercedes and so she joined and became President of the KC Mercedes Benz Club. After Ellwood died (1987) and she retired, Hilda immersed herself in volunteer work with the Kansas City Lyric Opera Guild and Opera Guilds International. She served as President of the former and Board Member of the later. They honored her with their Partners in Excellence Award, and the rare and prestigious Bravo Award for her years of “outstanding and unusual contribution in service” which included organizing fundraising opera trips to her Viennese homeland; advocating for and chairing an Opera Guild’s International Conference in Kansas City; and establishing and serving as the first office manager and host of OGI’s central business office. She later served as a volunteer office manager for Kansas City’s Ethnic Enrichment Commission. During these “retirement” years, she also enjoyed ballroom dancing, casino gambling, racing her Mercedes, traveling with friends, and spending time with her immediate family: daughter Ruth and her husband Steve Fritts; granddaughter Katie and her husband Mitchell Niehoff; and great grandson Louis Niehoff.
Hildegard was strong and independent, and got through the hard times by saying, “This too shall pass.” At age 96, she happily said, “I have done everything I wanted to do and saw everything I wanted to see.” Hildi spent her final year in a memory care home, enjoying occasional sips of wine and her final cigarette. She died peacefully on January 25, 2021 of Covid-19, holding her daughter’s hand. She was interned in Leavenworth National Cemetery joining her husband Ellwood. Their tombstone reads: “Theirs was a well-lived life.” The family requests no cards or flowers, but if you wish to honor Hildegard, a donation to the Lyric Opera Guild in her name would be appropriate.
ATTN: Guild / Lyric Opera of Kansas City / 1725 Holmes Street / Kansas City, MO / 64108
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