Getting by on grit and the occasional fish

Community Profile

Jerrry Hill
Jerrry Hill (Dwight Hobbes/MSR News)

To Jerry Hill, independence isn’t just a word — it’s a way of life. It always has been.

“Ever since the fourth or fifth grade I used to go with my grandfather, and he showed me how to cut grass,” which indirectly led to Hill doing for himself, as he readily attests now at age 62.

“My grandmother would cut my hair in what they now call a fade. Then it was called Chili-bowl. And I didn’t like it. I got mad, being teased at school,” says Hill. “So, I told her. She said, ‘Long as I’m paying for your haircut, it’ll get cut the way I want.’”

That’s when he decided to take his earnings from cutting lawns with Granddad to get his own style haircut. “You can do what you want when you make your own money. I been working ever since.”

Even now that he is no longer in the workforce these past seven years, Hill is no layabout and still pulls his weight, albeit by benefit of disability payments from employment as a machinist.

“I hurt myself on the job [at American Plastic and Polybags], had an accident to where I was partially disabled.” That position concluded a career of gaining work by a pattern. He would walk on a job site as a temp worker and, thanks to his work ethic, would perform so well the agency’s client would buy out his contract and hire him away. “If you do a good job and they want you bad enough, that’s what they’ll do,” he says.

Hand in hand with his independent streak, Hill has always had a can-do attitude. On a temp job in 1998, his supervisor asked him if he’d operate some machinery. “I said, I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll learn.” So, she trained him. “Once I got started, I got hooked on it.”

Hill acquired proficiency on several different pressing machines as well as learning how to die-cut. “I really got off into it, until the accident happened.”

His experience also includes working with small machinery “as a floor tech. When I took a break from Minneapolis between jobs and went to Kansas City, I’d strip floors, take up carpets and stuff like that.”

Originally from Hope, Arkansas, he moved with his family at age 10 to Kansas City, Missouri, then eventually relocated here with a lady in 1991. That relationship didn’t pan out, but life in general has.

It took only three weeks after Hill landed in Hopkins for him to dig up work. “I didn’t know anyone, but I was determined to make it work. I caught on at a hotel as a kitchen aide. I been here ever since.

Hill makes it through hard economic times with the same sprit that’s always seen him through: He perseveres through his own grit, and when it comes to stretching a buck, he puts his thinking cap on.

“It can be rough on a fixed income when you’re used to working all your life,” Hill says. “I go to the food shelf. That helps out. And I catch bargains at the stores. When I cook a meal, I do it so it’ll stretch two, three days. It all has to do with budgeting your money and sometimes making sacrifices.”

When it comes to entertainment that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, he’s not at a loss. Kicking back at his domicile, he enjoys either chilling with the radio on or watching a top-shelf television set he bought at a pawn shop and a DVD player his son gave him.

His favorite pastime involves a rod and reel. “All you need is a pole and some bait,” he says with a smile. “I love fishing. I’m a fishing freak. Been fishing all my life. Ever since I came to Minnesota, been going every year.”

It comes in handy that as a disabled worker he gets his fishing license without charge. “I’ll go fishing all day long.” He adds, “Another things about fishing, you get pleasure out of Mother Nature, wildlife and stuff like that. It’s peaceful and quiet.

“Just takes patience and skill. It’s a good feeling when you catch something that you can actually bring home and cook without having to go to the store. It’s fresh, doesn’t get any fresher than that. You went and got it yourself. It’s a good feeling you have.”

Had Jerry Hill chosen to go a different route, he could’ve taken that propensity for frying fish and opened up a restaurant. Once more, his independence comes into the picture. Where many would go hungry if they had to feed themselves, he has never depended on women to go in the kitchen and, as the saying goes, “make some noise with them pots and pans.”

He recalls, “When I was coming up in high school, I used to work at different restaurants just to keep money in my pockets. Plus, my sister used to always cook a lot. So, I learned.

“My wife used to say that I can go in there and make the kitchen stink.”


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.