Former Longtime USC Crew Coach Bob Hillen Dies
March 21, 2003
LOS ANGELES - Bob Hillen, who founded USC's crew program in 1947 and served as its head coach until he retired in 1990, died on March 16 in Los Angeles. He was 86.
A memorial service will be held this Thursday (March 27) at 10 a.m. at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 10195 Washington Blvd., Culver City. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the USC Andrus Gerontolgy Center, Los Angeles 90089-0191.
Hillen was a coxswain at UCLA for 3 years in the late 1930s after transferring from Sacramento City College, where he was the coxswain in 1935.
He began his coaching career in Sacramento, guiding local high school and junior college teams. He then returned to UCLA in 1940 as an assistant before becoming the co-head coach there in 1946.
While at UCLA, he helped start USC's crew program in 1947. In 1948, he came over to USC on a part-time basis as the program's first head coach. He also worked as an elementary school physical education instructor in the Santa Monica school district for 35 years, retiring in 1980. At that time, he took on the USC job full-time until retiring in 1990.
Hillen, recognizable with his trademark crew haircut, usually had about 100 Trojan rowers under his tutelage each year. Among his pupils was 2-time Olympic gold medalist Conn Findlay. Besides coaching USC's men's team, he also guided its women's squad beginning in the mid-1970s. Over the years, his men's teams beat such perennial collegiate powers as California and the University of British Columbia. They did this despite competing throughout his tenure as a non-scholarship sport. And he worked at USC without pay from 1948 until 1965.
He helped build USC's boathouse in the Los Angeles Harbor in 1961. A shell that the university named after him is currently housed there.
He was a member of the U.S. Olympic Rowing Committee and the Board of Directors of the National Association of American Oarsmen. He also was a founder of the Western Intercollegiate Crew Coaches Association. He helped coach the U.S. team at the 1971 Pan-American Games and was to have been an assistant for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team before a family illness forced him to quit that post. He was a site selection committee member and an official at the 1984 Olympic crew competition.
He earned a bachelor's degree from UCLA and master's degree from USC, both in education.
He is survived by his wife, Charleene, and son, Peter, plus grandchildren Scott and Melina.