Two people entwined in the history of a community
by Sandy Lindsay

August 31, 2016

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Trains, ships and romance often go together.  Whether it's  tales from aboard the Orient Express or the meeting aboard ship in the famous film story 'An Affair to Remember', but ... there is nothing like a real romance. 

Karen and Allen Hilgendorf will forever wave goodbye

An historic mural was recently unveiled in Southampton, Ontario.  It is a life-sized train steam engine from a bygone era. It was the lifeblood of a region that depended on the train for passenger travel, mail and freight but there is also a romance behind it.

Karen Hilgendorf stands in front of the mural where her husband's likeness waves goodbye

Now, for Karen (Tanner) Hilgendorf it will forever be a reminder and remembrance of her husband Allen.

Karen (Tanner) worked in Southampton at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre before leaving for another position in the Blue Mountain resort area of Collingwood.  Like many others, Karen's marriage also ended.

A passionate fan of the annual Owen Sound Summerfolk music fest for more than 30 years, it was there that Karen met the love of her life, Allen Hilgendorf.

Hilgrendorf, an ordained minister, had himself gone through several tribulations, including the death of his son in an accident, a divorce and a severe accident that crushed his pelvis.

They say that everything happens for a reason and, perhaps, that is true.  Following his accident, the insurance company offered to pay for his retraining in another field that would be less physically demanding.  It was then that he decide to go back to school and study design and visual arts at Georgian College in Owen Sound.  There was little doubt that he had a gift.

Hilgendor began to paint what would become famous historical murals through the region of Grey, Bruce and Huron Counties. From Kincardine to Durham, Tobermory to Flesherton and, finally, his last in Mildmay.

But ... back to Summerfolk.

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"I was at Summerfolk in Owen Sound when Allen came over and asked me to dance," says Karen. "The rest as they say ... is history.  We hit it off almost immediately."

The couple was married not once, but twice in a second ceremony in 2010 in the little church where Group of Seven artist, Tom Thomson, is buried - Leith Presbyterian Church. 

The couple was not to know however, that their marriage would be short.

Allen was diagnosed with prostate cancer that spread into his bones and, on August 4, 2014, he passed away.

On August 26th of this year (2016) however, an historic mural was officially 'unveiled' in Southampton (ON). It is a mural of a steam engine, that is exiting a building (Southampton Market) as it did in the 1800s, and that was created by Hilgendorf's friend and fellow mural artist, Bert DeGraaf. 

To many passing by, it may simply be a mural, remarkable though it is.  To those who attended the opening, it is a moment in time of the local history of a community. 

For Karen Hilgendorf however, it is even more.  It is a memory of a short life between two people that will remain a part of that history ... as her own likeness stands and waves goodbye to the engineer ... her husband, Allen.

Karen Hilgendorf

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016