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Tuesday, 26 January 2021
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Former Chieftain trailblazing sports editor dead at 72

Judy Hildner was the firsst woman sports editor in Colorado when she took over as The Pueblo Chieftain's sports editor in 1990. Hildner worked at the Chieftain for 46 years until retiring in 2012. She died Tuesday after battling with pancreatic cancer. Hildner was 72.(File Photo)Judy Hildner was the firsst woman sports editor in Colorado when she took over as The Pueblo Chieftain's sports editor in 1990. Hildner worked at the Chieftain for 46 years until retiring in 2012. She died Tuesday after battling with pancreatic cancer. Hildner was 72.(File Photo)

 


By Anthony A. Mestas
The Pueblo Chieftain
Dec. 26, 2020

Former Pueblo Chieftain sports editor Judy Hildner, who told the stories of thousands of local student athletes and was a trailblazer in Colorado sports, died Tuesday. She was 72.

Hildner, who was the first female sports editor in Colorado when The Pueblo Chieftain promoted her in 1990, died after battling with pancreatic cancer. She had been in hospice care at her son Thad’s home in Aurora.

"She just cared deeply about Pueblo. She cared deeply about all the people she came across. She felt that their stories needed to be told in the paper, and she did her best do right by all those people she came across," said Matt Hildner, her son and former Chieftain news reporter.

Born July 29, 1948 in Niles, Michigan, Hildner moved to Pueblo at age 6. She married the late Jack Hildner, also a former Pueblo Chieftain editor and reporter, in 1968 after meeting him at the paper. He died in 2012.

Hildner started part-time at the Chieftain after graduating from Pueblo Catholic High in 1966. She graduated from Southern Colorado State College (now Colorado State University Pueblo) in 1970.

Hildner, who was a sports reporter throughout the 1980s, was a Colorado High School Activities Association 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and a Greater Pueblo Sports Hall of Fame 1997 inductee.

"My mom appreciated covering a game in Las Animas or Hoehne as much as she enjoyed reporting on a Broncos' game. I think the sense of community and welcomeness she always encountered covering high school sports appealed to her," Thad Hildner said.

Thad Hildner said he admired his mother for her commitment to him and his twin brother.

"For years when we were young, she took an assignment in the Lifestyles section so she could work normal hours that allowed her to do the things most parents do for little kids — dinner, carpool etc. I never realized she preferred work in the sports section until I was much older," Thad Hildner said.

"I'll also remember my mom for her independence. She worked for years as a guild representative in the newspaper, which took her on travels around the country.

"At one point, during a contentious negotiation in the '90s, I even recall her helping to set up a union paper that they were going to take to press if they eventually went on strike. Thankfully, they settled, but she just always seemed to get things done, whether it was for her work or our family."

Matt Hildner, who was a Chieftain news reporter for the San Luis Valley, said he and his brother spent most of their childhood tagging along with their mom while she covered games.

"I was lucky to see her on the job and how she treated the people she came across. I don’t know of many kids who get that chance. At the same time, I have no idea how someone could turn a game story on an hour deadline with two 10-year-olds nagging her," Matt Hildner said.

He said his family is grateful to The Chieftain.

"It's hard to describe. It was always a part of our family. Not just my mom and dad, but also my aunt Mary (Jean Porter), who also wrote for the paper. You know, I grew up in that place," Hildner said.

"I knew people like (former sports reporter) Dave Socier and (former Chieftain Editor) Steve Henson long before they were a colleague or a boss. They were just good people who treated my mother great, and they treated my brother and I like we belonged there."

Former Pueblo Chieftain reporter Peter Roper wrote in 2012 that Hildner was a queen among the knaves.

"And you know, that is important to me," the then 64-year-old Hildner confessed in the 2012 article, "When I started, there weren't many women in newsrooms and certainly not covering sports."

Readers are already imagining hulking, nearly naked football players trying to intimidate lady sportswriters. We've heard the stories, seen the movies, and Hildner acknowledged that, yes, one Denver Broncos player did demand to know what she thought she was doing in the sweaty, testosterone-laced locker room.

"My job," she answered, and went on asking questions.

In 2012, Hildner retired from the Chieftain after 46 years.

Chieftain staffers then said it was hard to imagine the newsroom without her cheerful voice, offering up comment or criticism on some professional football or baseball game playing on the television that hangs in the sports department.

Hildner was a writer who was drawn to the people and the human story of athletes striving to accomplish something. It could be in a champagne-soaked Super Bowl locker room or out on the Eastern Plains, where a high-school wrestler stands with his arms raised to a gym full of cheering friends and schoolmates.

"She traveled up and down the Arkansas Valley and San Luis Valley covering playoff games. She covered just about every sport along the way for all the Pueblo schools," Matt Hildner recalled.

With a warm but direct look from her clear blue eyes, Hildner loved to interview student athletes.

Hildner told The Chieftain in 2012 that she had always considered it a privilege to cover the many high school and college teams in The Chieftain's readership area over the decades.

"She didn't have an axe to grind. She certainly wasn't looking to trip up a teenaged kid while she interviewed them. She just wanted to ask questions that would let them tell their story," Matt Hildner said.

"It was important to her that those stories all made it into the paper."

Chieftain reporter Anthony A. Mestas can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at twitter.com/mestas3517

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