Arliene Otis Hillinger, February 21, 1928 – February 23, 2014.
On February 8, 1945, a skinny 18-year old sailor named Chuck Hillinger walked into the Opal Pharmacy on Torrance Boulevard in Redondo Beach. He was hitchhiking his way from the Long Beach Naval base to the USO in Hollywood and stopped in to have a malted milk.
He never made it to Hollywood.
Behind the soda counter was Arliene Otis, a 16-year old blue-eyed beauty with blond hair peeking out of the little cowboy hat she wore for work. Hillinger was immediately smitten. He asked Arliene to the movies after work, and the couple had their first date hours later. In 1948, they were married.
“My mom was one of the original South Bay girls,” said Brad Hillinger, the couple’s son. “She and her four sisters. She was this beautiful blond beach gal.”
The couple settled in Redondo Beach after their wedding, and Chuck Hillinger began working for the Los Angeles Times. He went on to become an award-winning journalist for the Times and wrote over 6,000 stories in his 46 years at the paper. Throughout the 1950s, Arliene accompanied her husband on assignments to Hawaii, the Mississippi, South America and Canada.
“My dad was what they called a roving reporter,” said Brad, a Rolling Hills Estates resident. “He could literally pick up the phone and tell the paper where he wanted to go next. He could go anywhere in the world and come back with 15 or 20 stories. And a lot of the time he took my mom with him.”
Arliene Otis (second from right) behind the soda counter at the Opal Pharmacy in Redondo where she met her future husband Chuck Hillinger.
When she wasn’t traveling, Arliene was extremely active in her community. She served as President of the Redondo Beach Dianas Junior Women’s Club, President of California’s Marina District of the Junior Women’s Clubs and California Home Chairman for the state organization.In 1960 Arliene was Redondo Beach’s Woman of the Year and was profiled in the third edition of Who’s Who of American Women for her social and philanthropic work.
In 1963, the couple moved to Rancho Palos Verdes, where they lived together until Chuck’s death in 2008. During the Hillingers’ years in Rancho Palos Verdes, they raised two children, Brad and Tori, and became deeply involved in their community.
“We were an extremely functional family,” said Brad. “There were part of that ‘Greatest Generation.’ And they just loved each other to death.”
Arliene and Chuck Hillinger on their wedding day in 1948.
The Hillingers’ life on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was filled with social and charitable events. They were founding members of the Peninsula Racquet Club. Every December, Arliene would invite more than 60 friends over to bake and sell Christmas cookies. The money raised benefited an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico.
“My parents had a phenomenal amount of friends,” said Brad Hillinger, their son. “They had friends from the press club, the racquet club, lifeguards, just everyone. They were something else.”
Arliene was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2002. On Sunday, February 23 she died peacefully in her sleep at the Silverado Assisted Living Alzheimer’s Unit in Redondo Beach. She was 86.
“It was 12 years living with Alzheimer’s so it was a really long goodbye,” Brad said. “She was a trooper during it all but it is a huge blessing that she went.”
Though Chuck and Arliene are gone, their story has been immortalized. The Huntington Library collected the diaries, stories, photos and letters of Chuck Hillinger as a record of a true American journalist. Included in his papers are the hundreds of letters Chuck wrote Arliene during their courtship.
“Part of them will always be alive in the library,” Brad said. “And, now that my mother’s gone, they’re together again. It’s perfect.”