Galloway Township Police Sgt. Harry Hiltner stood at the front of the room and spoke to one person after another. People waited patiently in a huge line to speak to him, and it served as a microcosm for the entire night.
“This is amazing,” Hiltner said.
It was also a little overwhelming for a man who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, particularly on this night.
“You have to accept it first,” Hiltner said. “No one ever wants to have a benefit for them.”
The benefit, held Sunday night, April 15 at the Carriage House, was for Hiltner, who was diagnosed with lung cancer last August. The cancer has since spread to other parts of his body. Hiltner is a rare case of someone who doesn’t smoke being diagnosed with lung cancer.
The event raised $20,000, according to K-9 Corporal Mark D’Esposito, who helped organize the event, along with Donna Higbee, Chris Doyle, and Greg Bollinger.
"We did receive help as well from many other officers, both current and retired, as everyone was eager and willing to assist Harry and his family," D'Esposito said.
On Thursday morning, D'Esposito added that donations continue to come in, and can either be dropped off at TD Bank or mailed to:
Galloway Township Police Department
Attn: Mark D'Esposito
300 E. Jim Leeds Road
Galloway, NJ 08205
All checks can be made payable to HelpForHarry.
Hiltner's colleagues in the police department wanted to do something to help Hiltner, who continues to work full-time on light duty with the department.
“He did not want the spotlight on him, but we told him we were doing it and he did not have a choice,” D'Esposito said.
“Those guys took the ball and ran with it,” Hiltner said.
A snapshot of the outside the Carriage House Sunday evening gave an indication of just how far they ran with it. Cars lined the street outside the Carriage House. The parking lot was full, as was the parking lot of the Galloway Police Substation next door.
Inside, an estimated county of at least 900 people by the benefit's organizers made it difficult to move through the rooms. Nearly 2,000 50/50 tickets were sold, and Hiltner was greeted by people from all walks of his life.
“I’ve seen people from childhood in Atlantic City,” Hiltner said. “I’ve seen people from my other jobs. I’ve seen a lot of people I don’t even know. The guys did a good job. I’m very impressed.”
Hiltner’s been with the for over 19 years, and before that, he was a union electrician, a fireman and a member of the volunteer rescue squad.
“His neighbor from 30 years ago was here,” said Pat Hiltner, Harry’s cousin. “There’s a wide variety of people here.”
“It’s more than I expected,” said Scott Hiltner, Harry’s other cousin in attendance. “It’s a big turnout.”
Both of Hiltner’s cousins are also police officers. Scott Hiltner is with the Egg Harbor Township Police Department, and Pat Hiltner is with the Ventnor Police Department. According to Scott Hiltner, there is also a multitude of firemen and a city clerk in the Hiltner family.
The turnout was bigger than even those organizing it believed it would be.
“I’m glad to see so many people support those who need it,” Galloway Police Chief Patrick Moran said. “It reflects how good a person Harry is.”
“He’s always been very friendly and very nice,” said Linda Schreding, whose daughter, Morganne goes to school with Hiltner’s daughter, Ashley. “He’s a great, caring guy. They’re a great family, and we wanted to give them our support.”
Schreding attended the benefit with her husband, Eric.
Hiltner’s daughter, Ashley, is 10. He and his wife, Jean, also have a 28-year-old daughter named Lisa.
“It’s a beautiful thing that they gave their time and helped financially,” Jean Hiltner said. “It’s overwhelming to think that they all came together to help Harry.”
In addition to Hiltner's many family and friends, those in attendance included Mayor Don Purdy, Township Manager Arch Liston, Councilmen Jim Gorman and Dennis Kleiner, Councilwoman Whitney Ullman, Galloway Township Business Association President Mary Crawford, Galloway Democratic Club Chairman Michael Suleiman, Galloway Board of Education member Bob Iannacone, Smithville School Principal Kathie Hathaway and various teachers from the district, among many others.
Harry Hiltner said those who put the benefit together worked day and night, and he wanted to make sure the town knew what the police department did to help him.
“They got excited and then we got excited,” Harry Hiltner said. “We got crazy feedback. I met hundreds of people I never met before.”
“This is one for the record books,” Jean Hiltner said. “I want to show my appreciation to everyone and say thank you.”
The evening included door prizes, a Chinese Auction and a silent auction. Prizes included an acoustic guitar, a coffeemaker and a slow cooker.
“It’s nice to see the community come together in a time of someone’s need,” D’Esposito said.
It seemed as though every member of the community at least stopped by Sunday night, and Harry Hiltner spoke to each one of them.
“This is crazy,” Harry Hiltner said. “It’s overwhelming, and it’s heartwarming.”