Editor’s note: For this year’s Black History Month, Greater Union Life Center is sponsoring banners along Woodland Boulevard in DeLand honoring 16 individuals who have made a positive impact on the city of DeLand, and Volusia County.
DeLandite Willie Hill’s leadership and care for his community have inspired people for generations.
Born and raised in the DeLand area, Hill got his first job as a 17-year-old working as a groundskeeper for the City of DeLand. From there, he was selected to operate the Chisholm Community Center in DeLand as its first full-time director.
As the director of the community center, Hill managed to tie together his people skills and his interest in sports.
Hill started the first softball teams for African American men and women in DeLand. He also coached adult softball and the Lady Blackhawks and Junior Blackhawk teams.
Even after he retired in 1990, Hill stayed involved. During summers, he would work with youngsters when they were out of school and looking for activities.
Hill’s wife, Gaysha Hill, said he has always been well loved by the community.
“To see how many times that people come up to him and say he’s been such a great inspiration and a role model to them,” she said. “Just to hear them say that to him, it makes me proud — to give him that recognition while he’s alive.”
And that’s nothing new, either.
In a 1983 column in the DeLand Sun News, writer Ellen Clark celebrated the Chisholm Community Center’s then-recent renovation. She also spoke highly of Hill, its director.
“As a mother, the thing that impressed me most was that while the kids were having a great afternoon, they were being supervised,” she wrote, “by a man who obviously has a special rapport with the younger set, center director Willie Hill.”
These days, retiree Willie Hill is still an active member of the community, especially with his church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church of DeLand.
Gaysha Hill is especially proud to see her husband recognized for his community advocacy as part of DeLand and Greater Union Life Center’s Black History Month banner program.
“It was nice to see that happen,” she said. “It was a really cool time.