David Hillendahl

A longtime duck hunter, outdoorsman and advocate for wildlife, David Hillendahl of Petaluma died Thursday. He was 85.

"He really had a full life, all revolving around wildlife federations and nature," said his daughter, Lori Thornton of Tomales. "He had a bunch of old, close buddies from Petaluma. Up until the very end they were still old fishing and hunting buddies."

Hillendahl was born in Los Angeles, and at age 10 his family moved to a farm in Penngrove where he learned his love of nature, wildlife and hunting, Thornton said.

He served in the Army as a paratrooper stationed in Okinawa, Japan, during and after World War II and was discharged as a private first class in 1947 with victory and occupation medals, Thornton said.

Working as a maintenance supervisor at the Sonoma County Water Agency, Hillendahl loved his job of clearing creeks and ditches to help prevent flooding because it dovetailed with his interest in preserving wetlands.

Hillendahl channeled his passion for wildlife and game into several local groups, co-founding the Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Commission, Pacific Flyway Decoy Association, Tomales Bay Shark and Stingray Derby and Petaluma Outdoorsman. He also served as president of Ducks Unlimited and chairman of the Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board.

At home, Hillendahl's freezer was always full of venison and fish. But his wife and daughter would never eat any of it, Thornton said.

"It was always a joke in our family," Thornton said about her parents' differing philosophies on hunting. "Whenever he wanted to eat elk and any of that stuff, she would say, 'You've got to cook it yourself.'<TH>"

Hillendahl's vast collection of duck decoys was more than just a hobby. When each of his grandchildren were born, Hillendahl would sell some decoys, worth $4,000 to $5,000, to help them start savings accounts, Thornton said.

"He could be sweet and generous and kind and jolly, and he would do anything for anybody. . . . He had a big heart," Thornton said. "He had another side to him, too, and everyone knows he was grumpy. If he didn't agree with you, he'd let you know."

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