Nicholas Frank “Nick” Tillinger, 82, passed away peacefully on Saint Nicholas‘ Day, Dec. 6, 2017. He was surrounded by family at his home in Billings, after a long battle with cancer.
Nick was born in Etchka, Yugoslavia, on Aug. 19, 1935, to Mathias and Magdalena Tillinger. In October 1944, the family escaped the communist genocide of other Danube Swabians and fled on foot and horse-drawn carts to Austria, where Nick attended school with his brother and sisters. In May of 1952, the family was finally allowed to emigrate to the United States, and they boarded the USNS General Harry Taylor, a WWII-era “Liberty Ship,” for the 11-day passage to the United States. Upon arrival at Pier 41 in New York City, they boarded a train for Detroit.
In 1954, Nick met and married Jaqueline Brelinski of Alpena, Michigan, and they had four sons: Terry, Timothy, Tommy and William. Nick and Jacquie divorced in 1959. Nick lived in Alpena and worked at the A&P Grocery and at a cement plant from 1954 until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in August 1959. He served with the Army at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. In 1961, he was assigned to the Wisconsin National Guard to serve at Fort Lewis in Washington during the Berlin Crisis of 1961-62. While stationed in Oklahoma, Nick’s dreams became a reality when he became a Naturalized Citizen of the United States. He carried his citizenship card with him every day for the rest of his life!
Upon discharge from the Army in August 1962, he returned to Detroit, where he applied for and was selected as a driver for Greyhound Bus Lines and the Detroit Metro City Bus Lines the same week. He chose to spend his days driving for Greyhound seeing the country instead of driving local city routes, a choice that satisfied his ever-present wanderlust. Greyhound sent him to their driver training school in Indiana, where he met several other drivers who would become lifelong friends. He drove for Greyhound out of Detroit and Chicago until 1964, when he went to New York City to drive in support of the World’s Fair in Queens. Nick retired from Greyhound in 1990, and began driving over-the-road trucks for the next decade.
While driving a fill-in run to Toledo, Ohio, one night in 1964, he met a cute brunette passenger named Helen Marie Dumas. A Greyhound bus she had been riding on caught fire, and Nick drove a replacement Scenicruiser to pick up the stranded passengers. Nick and Helen’s first date was at the Big Boy restaurant in Toledo, and that was followed by their wedding on Jan. 9, 1965. Nick and Helen lived in Robbinsville, New Jersey, and had one son there (Todd). In 1966, they moved to Homewood, Illinois, where their four daughters (Tamara, Tina, Tracey and Teresa) were born. In the Bicentennial summer of 1976, the whole family moved to Billings, where Nick would live the rest of his life. Helen passed away of cancer in August 1998 after 33 years of marriage. After that, Nick often traveled south in the winter to the warm sunshine of Arizona and Nevada with his beloved Airstream trailer. Until his illness, he was active in the St. Bernard’s Church Knights of Columbus, he attended reunions of his Wisconsin National Guard Unit, and he attended many local and national Wally Byam Airstream Caravan Club rallies.
Nick took pride in and loved his family, his friends and his succession of small dogs. He also enjoyed and took pride in the many different cars, pickup trucks, motorhomes and Airstream trailers he owned over the years. He was always on the lookout for coffee to fill his ever-present cup, and enjoyed the pure and simple act of just traveling down the open road to a different place. His incurable case of wanderlust meant he had a hard time sitting still or remaining in one place very long, but he always enjoyed returning home to his family and friends, and to his house, his yard and his dog. He was fortunate to be able to make a living and a life for himself and his family doing something he truly loved.
Nick was preceded in death by his parents, Mathias and Magdalena; his wifem Helen; sisters Barbara Milroth and Helen Schneider; sons Terry, Timothy, Tommy and William; and by his daughter Tina Denny.
Nick is survived by his brother, Michael of Andorf, Germany; son Todd (Tina Brothers) of Helena; three daughters, Tamara Brown (Melvin) of Stockett, Tracey Tillinger Goetz (Robert) of Helena and Teresa Tillinger of Billings; eight grandchildren, Michael Denny, Aileen Denny, Allison Brown, Kate Brown, Dylan Tillinger, Hayden Tillinger, Maya Goetz and Sadie Goetz; and numerous nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his faithful Pomeranian, Chloe.
A funeral mass will be held at 1p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15, at Saint Bernard’s Parish, 226 Wicks Lane, Billings. Burial with military honors will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Cemetery, 1601 Mullowney Lane in Billings. Memorials may be given to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
The family of Nicholas Tillinger wishes to extend our sincere thanks to all the caregivers and healthcare workers who worked to help keep him comfortable as he lived his last few months in his home, which helped the family honor his last wishes.