SYCAMORE – Tom Boan of Sycamore, an employee for Driv-Lok for 34 years, remembers Hollis R. “Pete” Hilstrom as the nicest and smartest man he’s ever met.
“He taught me everything I know,” Boan said. “He was the Einstein of machinery. He knew all of his workers by name. On holidays, he shook hands with every employee. He was that kind of man. He was kind and generous. You could see the intelligence in his eyes.”
Although Hilstrom died in 1993, his eyes still can be seen: His likeness was captured in a portrait in the late 1980s. The portrait, which hung in the Driv-Lok conference room and was moved to the front entrance hallway, was donated to the Sycamore History Museum by Hilstrom’s family in a dedication ceremony Monday.
When Hilstrom bought Driv-Lok in Connecticut in 1940, the business began with one machine and a cigar box full of bills, invoices and shipping notices. Hilstrom moved his company to Chicago and then to Sycamore in 1966. What started as a one-machine, one-employee and one-customer shop became a $15 million company and a world leader in fastener solutions.
In addition to heading Driv-Lok, Hilstrom also was the president of the Rotary Club of Sycamore and the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce.
Hilstrom’s daughter, Karen Duffey, her husband, Bud, and their daughter, Kim, attended the dedication, each saying how appreciative they were of Driv-Lok’s employees for remembering Hilstrom 24 years after his death.
“We decided to donate his portrait to the Sycamore History Museum so that he continues to be a part of Sycamore and its history,” said Kim Duffey, Hilstrom’s granddaughter. “I remember when he had a heart attack, which required open-heart surgery. It’s the kind of surgery that you have six to eight weeks off. After maybe a week, he wanted to be back at work. The doctor finally relented, saying that it was probably less stressful for him to be at work. My grandfather was that dedicated to the job and to his company.”
Michelle Donahoe, the executive director at the Sycamore History Museum, described Hilstrom as an important figure in Sycamore’s history.
“He was a vital part of the community and of the success of our small town,” Donahoe said. “At the museum, we often explain history to kids by showing pictures and telling stories. His portrait tells his story. It tells of his determination, his creativity and his hard work. The portrait is a treasure that will be added to our museum.”
For the employees of Driv-Lok, Hilstrom’s memory lives on not only in his portrait, but also in his company.
“He built a company from the ground up and treated all of his employees like family,” said Jim Atwell, an employee of Driv-Lok for 29 years. “It was a privilege to work with him and to know him. His business is still around, and it’s a tribute to him and all he did.”