Hilda K. West (nee Kirkman) was born in Richmond, Indiana in 1898. The daughter of Indiana state senator Roscoe Kirkman, and suffragette and temperance advocate Ginevra Hill Kirkman, she held the position of organist at Second Lutheran Church in Richmond at age 14, and was valedictorian of the Richmond High School Class of 1915 at 16 years of age. She graduated from Indiana University in 1920 as a member of Delta Gamma Sorority and Mu Phi music sorority as well as being concertmistress of the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.
Mrs. West moved to Indianapolis that same year.Trained as both musician and teacher, she immediately began teaching at Emmerich Manual High School on the city’s south side. After meeting Harold West at a garden party, she married him in 1923. Upon beginning their life together, she reminded him that cooking and cleaning were not her fortes; he informed her that they would hire someone to handle these responsibilities as she had important work to complete in the community. This work, alongside raising their two children and maintaining her professional position as concertmistress of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1930-1937, became her life’s mission.
A civic leader in all respects, Mrs. West served on multiple boards of community agencies, including Flanner House (1937-1955), Day Nursery Association (1938-1955), Fletcher Place Community Center (1947-1962), the United Way and its predecessor, the Community Fund (1950-1967), and the Social Health Association (1961-1984). Additionally, she served as a trustee of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana (1963-1972) and was the first woman board member of the YMCA of Central Indiana. She also served on the board of the YMCA Foundation. Additionally, she chaired the construction committee for First Congregational Church from 1954-1957, and served as director and vice president of her husband’s business, West Baking Company, from 1924-1957.
In 1956, she was presented the B’Nai Brith Community Service Woman of the Year Award, and in 1957 she received the Women’s Community Service Award from the Methodist Church for her work as president of Fletcher Place Community Center. Both awards reflected her work in early race relations, equality of rights and opportunities for all races having been a lifelong passion for Mrs. West. This high level of interest for others of diverse culture and background made her ideal to chair the board of directors for the West Foundation following her husband’s death in 1954. As with all her activities, she was intimately involved in all aspects of the creation and operation of the foundation from its inception in 1958 to her own passing in 1984.
Mrs. West was a formidable woman of enormous intelligence and gravitas with a wide variety of interests and abilities. These qualities, as well as her integrity and strong moral character had great effect on the birth of our organization and continue to leave an indelible impact on the work of the West Foundation today.