A Republican, Hillis spent four years in the Indiana House of Representatives before serving eight terms (Jan. 3, 1971 through Jan. 3, 1987) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Include his time in the Army and the Reserves, and Hillis spent decades serving his country. And each step was assisted by what he learned at Culver.
“Culver has been with me my whole life,” he said. “It is the total balance of the education – the academics, the military training, the ethics, and the moral standards in your life. The self-discipline I learned helped me at every level.
“Culver taught me how to study, which helped when I went to college, then when I went to law school, and then when I was a lawyer. Then it really helped me when I was in the Statehouse and Congress,” he said.
Hillis served as the chairman of the committee that helped revamp the Indiana Constitution, which had been relatively unchanged since 1851. He helped author several constitutional amendments and helped retain the language that calls for the state to maintain a balanced budget. He also worked on state judicial reform during his two terms in the Indiana House, helping to change how state appellate judges are selected.
After his time at the state level, he served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He enjoyed his time in the House because it allowed him to concentrate on specific subjects. Senators, with just its 100 members, are forced to be generalists, he said.
Serving on the Armed Services Committee, Hillis sat on the subcommittee overlooking the procurement system. During that time, the committee worked on securing the famed M1 Abrams tank, which is still a mainstay of the Army and the Marine Corps, along with several other armies around the world. “It has been very useful to us all these years,” he said.
His ability to focus and concentrate on these complicated matters all originated from his time at Culver, he added.
Culver also helped Hillis move up the ladder in the Army. He was looking to transfer to the aviation school but there “more pre-air cadets than we had planes . . . and we had a lot of planes,” he said of that post-World War II era. Reporting for his interview with the officer-in-charge, he was asked if he had leadership training. When Hillis told him he had gone to Culver, the officer assigned him to Officer Candidate School and he eventually became a first lieutenant. “Culver opened that door for me,” he said.
Even his two years in Woodcraft Camp are still paying dividends, said Hillis, who now lives in Colorado. “I can still spot poison ivy and identify six or seven kinds of birds,” he chuckled. “Culver has always served as a stepping stone for what comes next in life.”