Winnetka, Community

In Tribute: Winnetka’s Kate Hilbrant, 32, remembered as positive force in her family, community

With relentless kindness, a captivating smile, and an ardent commitment to family and friends, Kate Hilbrant inspired her community in ways that will endure. 

Katherine “Kate” Hilbrant, of Winnetka, died on Jan. 10 from a medical emergency related to epilepsy. Kate was 32 years old.

Her life and legacy were celebrated during a memorial service on Jan. 14 at Winnetka Congregational Church, where Kate’s family members took turns sharing loving words and stories about Kate.

Her sister, Maddie, asked guests to carry Kate with them in four meaningful ways.

“When in doubt, be kind; you never know what someone is going through. Kate led with kindness no matter what,” Maddie Hilbrant said. “Second, remind those you love just how much they mean to you. …Kate never hesitated to share her love for those around her with the rest of the world. 

“Third, lean into what you love without question, unapologetically and with your whole heart. Kate never did anything less than 100 percent. … Lastly, take interest in those around you. Just a few words can change their day. Kate was always interested in those who came into her life and it created such a special bond between them.”​

Kate is survived by her mother Suzy and step-father Tom Lyman III; her twin brother, Johnny Hilbrant (Justin), brother Charlie (Kristi) Hilbrant and sister Maddie Hilbrant; and her step-siblings Tommy, Bridget and Stephanie Lyman. Kate is also survived by her father Stace Hilbrant, of Evanston.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to either Special Olympics Chicago or The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.

Kate Hilbrant, 32, was a special education paraprofessional in Wilmette.

Kate Hilbrant was born along with her twin brother, Johnny, on Oct. 2, 1989.

She attended Winnetka Public Schools and New Trier High School, where she excelled as a water polo player. Hilbrant was a team captain and All-State performer for the Trevians in 2008.

Maddie Hilbrant smirked while recalling a pep talk from Kate, in which the elder sister said that with practice Maddie — a collegiate rower — could one day be as good as her.

“The truth is no one is as good as Kate,” Maddie said. “Kate was pure and Kate was selfless.”

Kate continued to enjoy athletics, whether rooting for her favorite sports team or competing in basketball and softball with Special Olympics Illinois. 

She held jobs at local grocery stores, where her mother said she would leave an impact on nearly everyone she met — to the point where they would seek out Suzy and tell her about the warm interaction.

Kate then spent time as a teacher’s assistant with Bright Horizons, a children’s day-care facility, and just this school year earned a position as a special education paraprofessional at McKenzie Elementary School in Wilmette School District 39. 

“She was an Incredible member of our McKenzie School team,” said Amy Poehling, D39 School Board president, preceding a moment of silence at the School Board meeting Jan. 24. “Ms. Hilbrant created a deep impact on the lives of the students and staff with whom she worked and she is dearly remembered and missed by many.”

During the memorial service, Kate’s siblings expressed the pride they felt in their sister’s recent growth, which included a budding relationship with her boyfriend, John Adams.

Kate’s elder brother, Charlie Hilbrant, compared his sister’s evolution to that of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

He read a poem that concludes: “Although we wish it could have stayed, we are so thankful to have seen it at all.”

Johnny Hilbrant said he was always proud of Kate and her joy was a “beautiful thing.”

“While it took some time, she started to celebrate herself and gained a tremendous confidence specifically in the last two years of her life,” he said during the service. “Watching her blossom into the happiest version of herself that she’d ever been was a beautiful thing for us all.”

Kate’s light shined on all those she met, and her mother, Suzy Lyman, said the relationship was mutual. 

Suzy and her husband, Tom Lyman ,thanked all of those in the community for contributing to Kate’s life and to her joy. 

“Make no mistake, she found her voice and all of you had a part in that,” Suzy concluded at the service.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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