Parents relieved son is safe in Haiti

Don Hildebrand feared the worst for his son when he clicked on the television Tuesday and saw the city of Port-au-Prince lying in ruins.

It had been a little more than a week since he had gone on a motorcycle trip across Haiti with his son Kurt Hildebrand, a 32-year-old South Medford High School grad who has been a relief worker there for the past three years.

"When I saw what was on TV, my boss told me to leave work and head home," Don said. "I was done for the day."

It wasn't until 3 the next morning that Don and his wife, Donna, heard from their son. He had made it to the U.S. Embassy and managed to score a quick phone call to tell his parents he had survived.

"He sounded very fragile," Don said. "He had seen a lot of bodies in the street."

Kurt journeyed to Haiti hoping to help the impoverished population deal with the harshness of daily life in the tiny country.

He works as the country director for the Mennonite Central Committee in Port-au-Prince. The city was ground zero for Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake that has reportedly killed up to 50,000 people.

Kurt instantly fell in love with the Haitian people and their culture, his father said.

He "enjoys being in their company," Don said. "They are a poor people, but very friendly to visitors. They simply try to make the best out of their bad situation."

For Kurt, the idea of living a simple existence in one of the world's poorest countries was appealing.

"Kurt is the kind of guy who doesn't need a lot of stuff," his father said. "For him, less is more."

Not only did he survive the quake without injury, he sidestepped a potential tragedy. Just a few months before the earthquake, he moved out of a four-story apartment building and into his company office.

The apartment was rented to a couple who worked with the relief agency. Once the quake hit, the apartment was leveled.

The couple survived the collapse and have returned to Portland, Don said.

"They rode that building down four stories," he said. "It was a miracle they made it out."

Meanwhile, Kurt embarked on a frantic search of Port-au-Prince to find his fellow co-workers.

"He is now working with an organization that will bring in satellite phones to help open communication in the area," Don said.

During the motorcycle trip, Don noticed the fragility of the Haitian infrastructure.

"Many of those buildings we saw were simple concrete structures that were not reinforced," he said. "There is no way they could have survived an earthquake. If fact, much of the population lives in stick homes that probably fared better than the buildings."

The Hildebrands are looking forward to hearing from their son more often in the coming weeks, as relief aid workers establish communication lines in the devastated country.

Kurt has decided to remain in Haiti for the next five years, working hard to help build a better life for the people whose suffering increased tremendously in the past week.

A fund has been set up at the Rogue Valley Manor, where Don works as the director of pastoral services.

Checks can be written to the Rogue Valley Manor Foundation. The donation can be mailed to or dropped off at the Manor at 1200 Mira Mar Avenue, Medford, OR 97504.

Enclose a memo in the envelope that indicates the donation is for the MCC Haiti Earthquake fund.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail

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