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90-year-old baker closes business after decades in the community

The COVID-19 pandemic and health problems are forcing Bob Hiller to close his doors.
Published: Feb. 21, 2021 at 10:02 PM CST
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JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) - An iconic business in Janesville closed its doors for good this week, putting the business and equipment up for auction.

For 74 years, Bob Hiller’s sweet treats were a staple for the Janesville community.

“I mean, that was his life, he’d get up at midnight and go in and bake,” said Bob’s daughter, Sheila Hiller.

Sheila said she remembers working with her dad at Rollin Pin Bakery as a kid.

“We would just stand over them and crack dozens, hundreds of dozens of eggs,” she described.

Bob started his first baking business at just 16, after riding his bike to Milton and buying a bakery, Sheila said. Since then, he has been a baker in the army and owned locations across Janesville, becoming famous for his cookies, cakes, cream puffs and more.

Bob’s started renting his latest location shortly after he retired.

“He couldn’t stand being retired so then he rented this space, and he’s been here for the last 20 years,” Sheila said, adding at this location, her dad mostly only did sales on holidays and special events.

On those days, Sheila said hundreds of people would line up in the parking lot, waiting for their chance to try some of Bob’s latest creations.

However, by the end of 2020, the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and Bob’s growing health problems became too much. The family made the difficult decision to put the bakery up for auction.

“He’s not ready to give up right now, if he could, he’d be in here baking,” said Bob’s daughter Kathleen Hagen.

For years, the 90-year-old often put in long days to serve the community he called home.

“Here’s a guy that was in his 80s and still put in 15, 16 hour days,” said Tim Pogorelski, Bob’s former neighbor and a restaurant owner himself.

Pogorelski said being Bob Hiller’s neighbor “was like living next to a celebrity.” Above all, he said he remembers Bob’s generosity.

“I’d come up and get my stuff and he’d come out and he’d go, ‘Nope, don’t take their money, and here’s another dozen cookies,’” Pogorelski described.

That passion has influenced a whole community. After the auction, some Facebook posts received nearly 200 comments.

Bob’s daughters said they are overwhelmed by the community’s reaction, explaining some people are talking about renaming a street after Bob. Sheila added some people have bought signs or displays from the store as a keepsake.

“We’re very proud because we didn’t realize that he had that kind of impact on the community,” Sheila said.

Pogorelski added, “Everybody should be lucky enough to live next to a neighbor as wonderful as Bob Hiller.”

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