Franklin Hilzinger never knew his quiet, unassuming hardware customer was even a doctor until Jack Kevorkian made headline news. Kevorkian, who died at on Friday, first become famous when he assisted in the death of Oregon resident Janet Adkins in 1990.
Kevorkian used to go into Hilzinger Brothers Hardware store on Main Street on a regular basis to “buy valves and tubes,” Hilzinger said. He described the former pathologist as an amiable gentleman.
Hilzinger, now 78, was born and raised in Royal Oak. He formerly owned and operated the hardward store with his brother Raymond, who passed away in 2002. They took over the family hardware business in the 1950s from their father, Albert Hilzinger, who opened the store at 108 S. Main St. in 1925.
Retired in 1998, Hilzinger recalled several occasions when TV news personalities and sport celebrities stopped in the store, but none of his customers were more infamous than Kevorkian.
“Gordie Howe came into the store four or five times, always with big sunglasses on, but our most notorious customer had to be Dr. Jack,” he said. “Some of our employees had feelings about what he was doing, but we did business with him on a regular basis.
“He was a fixture in our store. He was so unassuming. There was never any discussion about what he was purchasing. It was never brought up. I never heard anyone in the store address him about what he was doing.”
The only controversy Hilzinger recalls was when Right to Life protesters showed up in front of nearby , above which Kevorkian lived in an apartment. “We all stuck our head out the door to see what was going on. The police were there.”
Hilzinger recalled how one employee helped Kevorkian at the store with plumbing items “and that afternoon Dr. Jack did a double suicide. My employee just felt terrible.” Hilzinger consoled the man about the item that Kevorkian used in his suicide machine, saying, “You cannot blame yourself for that. You were just doing your job.”
Like the rest of Royal Oak, Hilzinger said his employees were divided about Kevorkian. “Some of them had sympathy for him and others strongly disagreed with what he was doing,” he said.
The hardware store is now gone. , one of Kevorkian’s favorite restaurants, and the are located where the store stood. In 2002, Hilzinger helped his brother’s widow liquidate the store that his brother and nephew ran after his retirement. His association to Kevorkian, however, continues to this day.
“I never realized how much notoriety Dr. Jack had until I bought an RV. We’ve traveled for 15 years and when people ask us where we are from we tell them Royal Oak. People from the across the country will ask us about Dr. Jack and I will tell them all our stories,” he said. “People are always so fascinated about him.”