The inspiration: Mrs. Viola Hillsman

When Craig Dudnick first met Mrs. Viola Hillsman, he was just 19. He was a student at Northwestern University – she was the 76-year-old cook in his fraternity house. The two became close friends, and Craig came to depend on Mrs. Hillsman’s advice. In fact, he and the other frat boys had nicknamed her “Coach.”

A few years after he graduated, Craig found himself back in Chicago, needing a place to stay. He moved into Coach’s basement and soon realized she needed his help. Her husband died, and eventually she developed dementia. Craig ended up caring for Coach for 20 years.

That is how Dick Gordon of The Story (from American Public Media) began his radio program in which he told a national audience about my relationship with Mrs. Viola Hillsman. She was a woman of great faith and humanity, as well as my friend and teacher. That time with her changed my life and inspired a documentary about the community to whom she was devoted.

The indomitable spirit of those portrayed in the film, made possible by their living faith, provides a lesson to us all in the proper way of facing and overcoming even the most insurmountable of life’s difficulties and challenges. 

Radio interview with Dick Gordon

A living faith, a love of people, and a dedication to community; these were the qualities that I found in "Coach" and also the qualities shared by many of her friends.

Together they changed lives, helped build a community, and influenced the conscience of a nation.

Their courageous example was the inspiration for my documentary, "Evanston’s Living History."

Craig Dudnick