Hilton, Mary Elizabeth 9/20/1937 - 3/5/2023 Hastings Mary E. Hilton, 85 years of age - Inspirational businesswoman, diaper service entrepreneur, and wildlife rehabilitation expert passed away Sunday, March 5th in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mary Hilton's insatiable thirst for learning, growing and trying new things was contagious for all who were near. From family to business to love, Mary was always all-in. As a businesswoman she broke many chauvinistic barriers, not for political reasons, but simply to accomplish what her creative mind had envisioned. She often said, "I just wanted to stay home and bake cookies." A woman who lived life on her own terms, Mary ran a company and baked, too. The two cookie jars at 2125 Crane were always full and the door always unlocked. Those who lived there never knew who they would find in their kitchen munching chocolate chip cookies. Could be a carpenter who worked on the house last summer, a neighborhood teen dodging their parents, a former boyfriend, or someone's mom crying over girl-talk. Mary was also known for her homemade apple pies. She learned to make pie crust from a colorful character who rolled the pastry with last night's wine bottle and baked in a wood-fired oven. After moving to Kalamazoo, Mary was determined to win a blue ribbon for her pie at the Kalamazoo County Fair; she always lost to the same woman. Finally, in 1976 she won the blue ribbon. With a mischievous smile she said, "That little old lady finally died!" We hope that Mary's passing brings a similar smile to some young aspiring baker. But aspiring pie bakers will still have to contend with her son Andrew, who's won many 1st-place prizes in the Food Network National Pie Championships. Mary Hilton was a strong and compassionate woman who nurtured the people around her, nature, and her community. A woman who was deeply loved, Mary will be forever missed. Early Life Mary Elizabeth Hilton, ne Sorgenfrei, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on September 20, 1937. She was the daughter of Frances E. Schwab and Norman Sorgenfrei and stepfather Raymond J. Schwab. She adored her two younger sisters Jennifer and Ann. Mary attended high school in Chicago where she performed synchronized swimming. She spent her summers at the family farm in Lawrence, MI. After interning for Dr. Les Fisher at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Mary enrolled in the veterinary program at Michigan State University where she was hazed out for being a woman. Love at First Sight On a taxi ride from the train station to MSU, Mary met her future husband "Bill" William Hilton. It was love at first sight - a romance that lasted twenty-two years. Many evenings throughout their marriage the couple would slow dance in their living room, perfectly in sync, blissful. Mary and Bill welcomed four children into their family, Chris, Andy, Molly, and "adopted" child Dale Lighthizer. Mary and Bill were a dynamic team. Each earned their private pilot's license. Together they helped found Unity of Kalamazoo where Mary taught Sunday School. Diapers Unlimited In 1962, Bill and Mary started Diapers Unlimited diaper service. The Kalamazoo-based diaper service was well ahead of its time and grew to include DyDee Service in Grand Rapids, and later Cottontails in northern Indiana. When Bill suddenly died in 1978, Mary took over as president of the corporation. She grew the company to become among the largest diaper services in the U.S. at the time - 10,000 customers in Michigan, northern Indiana, and Chicago and more than 150 employees. Mary cared deeply for her employees, and many were among her closest friends. She was a true innovator in the industry, developing Dydee Bear, a mascot, that comforted hundreds of thousands of diaper service babies. From 1975 - 1988 Mary served as national spokesperson for the National Association of Diaper Services writing a syndicated newspaper column, magazine articles and making television appearances. 1996 she became the Board President for the industry. Mary ran Diapers Unlimited from 1962 - 2002. In 1991 Mary founded Clothes For Kids a non-profit which worked with diaper services to provide clean clothing to 750,000 homeless children across the US. Mary also served as the first female board member of First Federal Savings & Loan and in1997 she was named Kalamazoo's woman of the Year. Mary's Legacy: A Lasting Impact Throughout her entire life Mary cared for God's creatures. She helped establish the wildlife rehabilitation program at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. She raised robins, quail, herons, seagulls, owls, blue jays, nuthatches, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, rabbits, woodchucks. Her recipes for baby bird food were used nationally by nature centers for many years. The birds were her favorites. As she began her last active decade leading Diapers Unlimited, Mary and her children bought and ran Deer Forest animal sanctuary in Coloma, Mich. (1993-2004). Mary loved sharing her vast knowledge. She was especially fond of her two, trained zebras and notes as a highlight of her life, the opportunity to help birth a baby camel. Renewed Chance at Love In 2010, Mary married Rick Charles Johnson who was with her on this incredible life journey until her death on March 5, 2023. When Mary met Rick, they quickly bonded over a mutual love for the outdoors, airplanes, humor, and Rick's favorite German chocolate cake. Mary and Rick enjoyed many travels together. Seeing another opportunity to share nature with the community, Mary and Rick operated Long Lake Outdoor Center, a historic conservation-era camp in Middleville, Mich. They brought the camp back to life by painting the buildings, planting flowers, and making connections in the community to promote the area. Mary loved giving nature talks to campers and studying the local history. Mary was lifelong learner. Her mind was always busy, and she was always on the go. She served on many boards and community organizations. Mary earned her Private Pilot's license, Scuba-Diver Certification, Federal Raptor & Migrating Bird License, Federal Certification for Wildlife Rehabilitation. She was also a certified dog trainer. Just short of perfect, she was a terrible knitter and always turned left out of every door, no matter where she was supposed to be headed. And, of course, Mary Elizabeth Hilton always loved to drive fast in her Mercedes sporting the "Diaper" license plate. ------------ Mary's family includes her husband Rick Johnson; sister Jennifer Schwab (Tom Miller); children: Chris Hilton, Andy Hilton (Marcia), Molly Hilton (John Anderson), Dale Lighthizer; step-children: Heather Cook, Genie Smith (Andy), Kelly Carter; grandchildren: Hilary Snyder, Sean Hilton (Alana), Josh Hilton (Liz), Mac Carroll (Em), Tressa Greschak (Alex Demetralis), Evelyn Smith, Elly Smith, Mac Smith, Ariana Carter, Brennan Cook, Alexis cook; nephews: Burns Phillips (Meredith), Richard Andersons (Grace); several great-grandchildren; dear friend Lisa Jenks. Mary was preceded in death by her first husband William Merle Hilton and her sister Ann Andersons. SERVICE Visit with family and friends on Friday, March 31st at 10:30am. Kalamazoo Nature Center; Glen Vista Gallery; 7000 N Westnedge Ave, ; Kalamazoo, MI 49009 (269) 381-1574. Services begin at 11:00am. A reception will follow. Online condolences may be left at www.girrbachfuneralhome.net.