2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Each generation is responsible for securing its own freedoms."
Born in 1925 in Sandburr Coulee, Buffalo County, Wisconsin, Clayton Paul Hilliard spent his early years on a small family farm. His father suffered chronic poor health, which made it difficult for him to contribute to the hard labor of a farm. Hilliard's mother, the oldest girl from a farm family of 11, assumed the management of the farm, raised three boys, and cared for her husband when he was incapacitated. This would have been daunting circumstances on their own merit, but the years of the Great Depression coupled with severe drought made the Hilliard family existence even more difficult. Their farmhouse had no electricity or indoor plumbing. They lived 12 miles from town and did not own a car. It was a hard scrabble life and Hilliard and his brothers learned to throw nothing away. They used, reused, and refitted many items to avoid spending precious cash on new things.
When Hilliard was 11, his younger brother accidentally started a fire that destroyed the family's hay supply, as well as their barn and farm equipment. They were forced to sell all their livestock, but kept their milk cows. They moved into a rental in town, and boarded their cows in a nearby barn. They earned an income from their small dairy, delivering milk, cream, and cottage cheese to the town residents. Hilliard also had a paper route to help with expenses. This was his first exposure to world events, which stimulated a keen interest in geography and history.
When Hilliard was 14, his father died. Two years later, his mother remarried and moved 30 miles away. Hilliard moved in with an aunt and grandmother so that he could continue at his local high school. In 1943, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marines. He flew 45 missions as a radioman/gunner in "Dauntless" dive bombers over the Solomon Islands and Philippines. At the end the World War II, Hilliard used the GI Bill to finance his undergraduate education first at Wisconsin University and then Syracuse University. He earned a law degree at the University of Texas in 1951.
His first job after finishing school was with Chevron. It wasn't long, however, before he discovered he did not care to work for a large corporation. After three years, he went to work for H.L. Hunt, exploring for oil in southern Louisiana. In 1955, at the age of 30 and with $400 in the bank, he struck out as an independent oil and gas producer. His 53-year-career with his privately owned Badger Oil Corporation has been a roller coaster of failure and success. He was in the business for 20 years, for example, before he saw oil go above $3 a barrel. Although risky, he has found the oil business to be fascinating, exciting, and challenging.
Hilliard believes in giving generously to civic and charitable programs. The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette features more than 2,000 works of art, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, and photographs. Hilliard also serves on the board of the Public Affairs Research Council, a non-profit research organization that offers solutions to public issues in Louisiana. He is on the board of directors of a community bank, which he helped to start in 1984. He was an active member of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and served as National Chairman in 1989-91. IPAA represents the interests of small American oil and gas producers. He also serves on the Board of Trustees and executive committee of the National World War II Museum. In 1997, Hilliard established the Badger Excellence in Education Foundation, which focuses much of its attention on reading at the elementary school level.