Leon Hilfman, 88, devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather; passionate fisherman, golfer, bowler, pilot, violinist and card player; longtime men's clothier, ardent Iowa Hawkeyes fan, accomplished actor and director, exited "stage right" for the final time on the morning of March 17, 2018, in Washington, Iowa.
He was born April 2, 1929, in Davenport, Iowa, to Ralph and Edith Hilfman, and grew up beside the Mississippi River with his sister Louise.
Leon met Clara (Babe) Falk while they were both students at the University of Iowa in 1948 and they married in June 1949, a union which lasted for 68 years. They moved to Los Angeles later that year, where Leon planned to pursue his Hollywood dreams. When Babe's father, Joe Falk, experienced some health issues, they decided to move back to Washington in 1951 to help with the business. Leon eventually took the reins of Joe's (and mother-in-law Bertha's) men's clothing store, which was a fixture on the town square for decades. He was almost surprised that he really started enjoying that line of work. Leon likely sold everyone in southeast Iowa a suit or overalls before he retired.
Leon was an enormous presence in Washington his entire life. Many knew him through the Joe Falk Co., but most people probably remember him best for his remarkable work in the theater for 60 years in Y's Men productions at Washington High School and then at the Washington Community Theater, where he acted in and directed countless memorable shows, including musicals such as "Fiddler on the Roof" and "South Pacific" (portrayals of Tevye and Emile de Becque being two of his personal favorites), "My Fair Lady," "The Sound of Music," "The Music Man," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and "The Wizard of Oz," and other shows like "The Sunshine Boys" and "Mark Twain Tonight!"
Leon also took theater classes at the University of Iowa and acted in a number of Iowa City theatrical productions. One theater reviewer said, "When he is on stage there is so much magic that even when he leaves, you want to go off stage with him."
He was an avid fisherman, taking annual bus trips for many years with his buddies up to Canada to fish for walleye and northern pike. In later years, he went to Alaska, fishing annually for king salmon on the Nushagak River, where sons and grandsons sometimes joined him and reveled in the salty banter with his many pals. He also traveled regularly to Belize to fish. He simply loved being out on the water in his fishing boat, the grizzled, intrepid fisherman, cigar planted in mouth.
He enjoyed drinking and wisecracking with his card-playing cronies out at the Washington Country Club, where he took up golf in his 30s and became an excellent player, participating in an elevated flight in the Twilight League. Leon always believed a glass of Kessler whiskey enhanced his card playing skills and golfing abilities.
He and Babe were snowbirds for 40 years in Port Charlotte, Fla., spending time enjoying the warm winters and visits from family and friends. While there, he was seemingly obsessed with taping a multitude of TV programs, running numerous VCRs simultaneously. He also served as the impresario for the Riverwood residential community weekly movie presentations.
Babe and Leon also traveled extensively worldwide, to Australia (where Leon played golf with the kangaroos), throughout Europe and the Middle East, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands and other far-flung lands. We're pretty sure they achieved top-tier frequent flyer status on Continental, Eastern and United.
Leon also was very civic-minded, active in organizations like Kiwanis, the Jaycees and the Y's Men, where his impish sense of humor and storytelling served him well. Leon took tremendous pride in his children and grandchildren, having a special connection with each and enjoying time with them over the years, whether attending or watching Iowa football games on TV (Leon always knew more than those stupid coaches), fishing for bluegills, orchestrating a family gathering in Hawaii, or celebrating his 50th anniversary with family on a cruise ship. Leon also had an unusually close relationship with his sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews.
A much-beloved person, Leon had a huge heart and a generous spirit. He truly lived life with a zest and vibrancy that were infectious, enriching the life of anyone who knew him.
Surviving Leon are his wife, Babe of Washington; daughter, LeeAnn and son-in-law, Jeff Whittlesey of Iowa City; son, David of Iowa City; son, Greg and daughter-in-law, Cinderella of Topanga, Calif.; son, Randy and daughter-in-law, Wendy of Woodinville, Wash.; exchange student children, Brigitte and Suthep; grandchildren, Abe, Biba, Cooper, Marshall, Michael, Phil and Zack; and great-grandchildren, Ari, Evie, Max and Savannah.
There will be no funeral service for Leon, but sometime later this year we're planning a "Celebration of Life" for him at the Washington Community Theater, where we'll actually have a chance to hear from Leon one last time.