Wedding dream comes true for terminally ill veteran

56-year-old Oregon woman beat the odds to tie the knot

Newlyweds Richard and Jill Hill pose Sunday morning outside their Lahaina condominium; The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

LAHAINA — When Jill Hill’s boss laughed at her plans to join the Marines, she enlisted. When her doctors said she had just six months to live, she pushed it to 14 months . . . and counting.

And when there were concerns that she might not make her dream wedding on Maui, Hill resolved to be here.

On Friday, the 56-year-old Hill married her fiance, Richard, on Baby Beach in Lahaina, thanks to an organization that fulfills the final dreams of terminally ill adults.

“I had no idea they would go to this extravagance,” said Hill, who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. “I can’t express enough thanks. . . . It’s been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.”

Hill’s wish became reality through the California-based Dream Foundation, “the only national dream-granting organization for terminally ill adults.” The nonprofit has fulfilled more than 25,000 final dreams over the past two decades.

Shortly after tying the knot Friday, Richard and Jill Hill end their day with a glowing sunset at Baby Beach in Lahaina. Jill Hill, a veteran who is suffering with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, enjoyed her last wish of getting married on Maui thanks to the Dream Foundation, an organization that helps fulfill the dreams of terminally ill adults. Maui’s Angels photo

In January, Hill applied to the foundation’s Dreams for Veterans program, which is open to U.S. military veterans with “a life-limiting illness and a life expectancy of 12 months or less” and “lack the resources to fulfill the dream themselves.”

“Jill fulfilled each of these qualifications, so we were happy and able to fulfill her final dream,” said Dani Cordaro, public relations consultant for the nonprofit. “Since we were founded in 1994, we have never turned down a qualified dream applicant.”

From wedding planner Maui’s Angels, to Alaska Airlines, Coconut Condos, Hertz and Hyatt, several companies pitched in to help the Hills have an all-expense-paid destination wedding.

The Hills live in Dallas, Ore. Since arriving on Maui on Feb. 27, they’ve feasted at a VIP luau, enjoyed the beach and watched turtles come on shore at Hookipa. Stormy weather postponed their ceremony, but conditions cleared up in time for the Hills to exchange their vows and snap some sunset photos Friday.

“I feel like a new woman today,” Hill said Sunday.

Jill and Richard Hill share a moment during their wedding ceremony at Baby Beach in Lahaina Friday afternoon. Maui’s Angels photo

A native of Roseburg, Ore., Hill served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1984 to 1987. As a single mom with a 3-year-old son, she needed better pay and insurance, but her boss denied her request for a raise.

“I said, ‘Fine, I’ll join the Marine Corps,'” Hill said. “He laughed at me, so I did.”

Military service runs in the family. Hill’s father served in the Marines. Four of her siblings have enlisted in the military. Her son also joined the Marines and served two tours in Afghanistan.

“I wanted to challenge myself and know that . . . I did something that not everybody could do, that wasn’t easy to do,” Hill said.

Hill came home and did some waitressing before becoming a casino poker clerk. About five years ago, she met Richard Hill at a dog park.

“If you want to meet a good person, you’ve got to go to a dog park, because if they treat animals good they’re going to treat you pretty good,” Jill Hill said.

They started talking. The two had a lot in common: Both grew up on farms, were one of seven children and loved camping and the outdoors. Both had been married before and had adult children.

“I’m kind of introverted,” said Richard Hill, 60. “I liked her because she was outgoing. She can walk up to anybody and start a conversation.”

Richard Hill grew up in Selah, Wash., and was a timber faller for 20 years before going into the heating and air-conditioning business. He worked in Wyoming before moving to Oregon.

Jill Hill liked his calm demeanor, “and handsome, of course!”

But not long after they started dating, Jill Hill was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer. She began chemotherapy, but after it seemed like the treatment was “killing me more than the cancer,” she decided to opt for hospice care at her home.

“It’s been a couple years of doctors and hospitals,” she said. “And for a man to stick by you through that after only dating you like a year, that’s a lot. . . . Some people would run. And he did not run at all. He hung tighter.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” her husband said.

Before Jill Hill was diagnosed with cancer, the couple thought they would eventually get married but weren’t in a rush.

“Until I found out that (I was) dying, I said, ‘I would like to get married before I die,'” Jill Hill recalled.

The two got engaged Jan. 1. Watching Jill Hill excitedly prepare for her Maui wedding was a joy to friend Becky Peters.

“It really, really rejuvenated her,” said Peters, who traveled to Maui for the wedding.

There were some days when the couple wondered if she would make the wedding.

“I asked her, ‘Are you going to make it to Hawaii?'” Richard Hill recalled. “She goes, ‘Yep.'”

The kids weren’t able to come but encouraged the couple to make the trip, said Jill Hill, who also has a 9-month-old granddaughter. She wishes she could be around “another 20 years” for little Grace, but plans to enjoy all the time she has.

“Everything in my life has been an adventure, and I just take it one day at a time,” she said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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