George T. Hilden, 90, the former chairman of Osco Inc., who along with the company's founder built it into one of the country's biggest drugstore chains, died of heart failure Friday, July 27, in a hospital in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He had been fighting a heart illness.
Mr. Hilden, a towering man who grew up on his parents' farm outside Starkweather, N.D., had an Upper Midwesterner's faith in people, a gregarious nature and a love of business, in part because it incorporated both. He moved to Valley City, N.D., after graduating from high school and worked in a gas station while taking college courses there. But he quit the gas station and school to work in a family-run Piggly Wiggly grocery that promised career advancement. The family that ran the grocery was that of L.L. Skaggs, the founder of Osco Drug. When Skaggs opened the first Osco in Rochester, Minn., he hired Mr. Hilden to be its manager.
"We consider him one of the founders of Osco," said Karen Ramos, spokeswoman for Osco Drug. "He was the very first manager. He was one of the people who worked in this company who made it what it is today." He was instrumental in the growth of the new company in the Midwest, she said.
"He believed in people immensely and that they would do the right thing," said Mr. Hilden's sister Denise. "As a rule, he treated everybody right, and evidently had a good business sense. From there, it just grew." As Osco grew from one store into a chain, so did Mr. Hilden's career. He moved to the Chicago area in the 1940s. He lived in Evanston before later moving to Glencoe and, most recently, Wilmette. He was a social man who "had such a catalog of jokes," his daughter Hester said. With his wife, Marjorie, Mr. Hilden took cruises and vacations around the world; he hosted numerous dinners and parties for business acquaintances and friends.
Mr. Hilden was among the executive ranks at Osco when it merged with Jewel Tea Co. in 1961, after which he served as vice president of merchandise at Jewel Food Stores. In 1965, he was named president of Osco Drug and chairman of the board at Osco in 1967. By 1972, the chain had 185 stores in 17 states. He served as president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores in 1971 and 1972, and then as chairman until 1973. After retiring in 1976, he spent the next 25 years as a consultant to Hallmark cards, working often from his winter home in Juno Beach, Fla.
In addition to his wife, sister, and daughter, Mr. Hilden is survived by his son, Thomas; two brothers, Afton and Richard; and two sisters, Denise and Evelyn.