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Hilda Carper, founding director of Hilda’s Place, dies at the age of 94

Hilda Weber Carper, 94, died peacefully at home in Evanston on December 22, 2021. She was born on March 4, 1927, on a farm in Lancaster County, PA, to Reuben and Eva Carper, the third of four children. She attributed important educational and spiritual influence to her mother as a teacher and the upbringing of the Mennonite Church.

After her family moved to Southeast Virginia, she graduated from high school and attended Eastern Mennonite College for a year. She graduated from Goshen College, Goshen, IN in 1950 after taking time off to teach in Virginia and Detroit, MI. From 1953 to 1957 she accepted an assignment from the Mennonite Central Committee to write a curriculum for children’s churches in Basel, Switzerland.

From her contacts among Mennonite expatriates in Europe came an invitation from John Miller to join the deliberate Christian community that is forming at the Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston. But it found that her skills were needed more at a sister church in downtown Chicago, so she instead volunteered at the Church of Hope on Chicago’s West Side Christian Parish as the teacher, choirmaster, and future pastoral assistant to Rev. Julius Belser . Urban renewal forced the church to close in 1966 when the Belsers and Hilda moved to Reba Place. There Hilda organized the Reba day care center (now known as Reba Early Learning Center) in the church building at Reba-Platz 727.

In 1976 she supported the growth of the Reba Place Fellowship by taking on pastoral and administrative management as head of elders and household. The worship life was enriched by her work in compiling a songbook, making worship banners, and singing in the musical group. She eventually reunited with Julius and Peggy Belser in the early 1980s and ran the Clearing Household.

Contact with the homeless in the clearing prompted Hilda to look for a more structured way to support the needs of Evanston’s homeless. In 1984, her volunteer work as breakfast for overnight guests at Lake Street Church resulted in her becoming the first director of the Connections for the Homeless Shelter there until 1992. Residents started saying they lived in Hilda’s Place. When she retired, the name became official. In retirement, Hilda designed paper collage greeting cards for sale at Plain and Simple, supported several justice efforts, and continued to provide pastoral care.

Her parents, brother James Carper and sister Ruth Eitzen, precede her in death and leave behind sister Jean Miller, Lititz, PA, and many nieces, nephews and “spiritual children”. Their memorial service will be held on Sunday, February 6th at 2 p.m. at Reba Place Church, 620 Madison St., Evanston. Visit the rebaplacechurch.org website for streaming details.

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