For three decades, “Racecar Bob” Hiller has been driving home the importance of the Sedalia Police Department’s D.A.R.E. Program.
Hiller is the primary fundraiser for the program, which costs about $6,500 per year to operate. Sedalia Police Department Detective John Fellows stressed that D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a lot more than teaching youth to just say “no” to drugs.
“D.A.R.E. provides local children with positive contact with local law enforcement and a familiarity with an officer that works in their communities, building a connection between the community and it’s police department,” said Fellows, who has taught the D.A.R.E. curriculum for four years. He added that the program “focuses on building good decision-making skills and critical thinking, teaching kids to think through risky behavior and its consequences and equipping them with strategies on how they can stand up for themselves and others even if they are the only one standing.”
Hiller connected with the program when he attended his daughter Shyla’s D.A.R.E. graduation at Washington Elementary School in 1990. He learned that it had no federal, state or local funding and he was inspired by what Shyla learned in the program.
“I just felt it was needed,” he said.
At the time, Hiller was racing each week at State Fair Speedway and came up with a platform that was aimed more at awareness for D.A.R.E. than for fundraising.
“My main goal at the time … was to get the community involved and behind this program to keep it,” he said. Hiller turned his race car into a rolling billboard for D.A.R.E. He also created T-shirts emblazoned with “Become a Winner – Just Say No” and a picture of his racecar on the front and sponsor names on the back. Sponsors paid $20 each, which purchased four shirts. In his first year, Hiller had about 15 local business names on the back of the shirts, but over time it grew to 40. Children attending the races would enter a drawing and two winners would each receive a shirt and have their photo taken with the D.A.R.E. race car; when they came back to the track the next week, they got a print of the photo for free.
After retiring from racing, Hiller converted his car to be street legal and now he drives it in parades and displays it at events across the region, still proudly showing off its D.A.R.E. designs.
A few years in, Hiller decided to put on a car show to benefit D.A.R.E., starting with just race cars but eventually opening up. His mantra: “If you can ride it, race it, drive it, or just like displaying it, bring it.” The show is held the first Saturday of April each year around the Sedalia Municipal Building. There are plenty of awards, with votes costing a penny each. Entrants can either pay $5 or provide a dessert for the auction, which has become one of the highlights of the show.
Over the past 10 years, Hiller has raised $8,000 to $12,000 annually through the car show, with all proceeds going to the D.A.R.E. Program.
“I’m pretty proud of it and I get a little emotional when I talk about it,” he said.
Through his efforts, Hiller has raised enough to fund two $500 scholarships for D.A.R.E. graduates, one at Smith-Cotton High School and one at Sacred Heart School. They are endowed for 30 years each, and Hiller said SPD’s is the only D.A.R.E. program in the country that provides scholarships.
About three years ago, Hiller suffered a stroke. In December, he had a bout with double pneumonia.
“I feel like I am starting to come back,” he said. “It forced me to retire” from his job at Starline Brass.
Hiller is grateful that his wife, Maybelle, is just as passionate about the D.A.R.E. cause as he is. Fellows said, “Having community partners like Bob Hiller … makes programs like ours here in Sedalia possible. … The people who donate to the D.A.R.E. Program do so because of their love and respect for the program that they received as a direct result of Bob Hiller’s work.”
Hiller’s favorite part of supporting D.A.R.E. is presenting the check every year.
“I look the mayor and the councilmen right in the eye and tell them, ‘You all have never had to appropriate one dollar to this program. We’ve kept it going,’” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first year since he started the car show that it was not held. Hiller still has all the plaques and told his sponsors the awards can be used for next year’s show so they won’t have to pay again. More than half of those donors told him to be certain to see them again next year so they can give him another check.
“We live in a great community and like me, I think they realize how important the D.A.R.E. Program is,” Hiller said.
There are critics who say D.A.R.E. isn’t effective; Hiller challenges them to prove that it isn’t working.
“There are kids out there – it doesn’t matter what you teach, what you do, they’re going to do it because they see it every day,” Hiller said. “There are a lot of innocent kids out there who are sitting on the fence and they are being tugged in both directions. Our goal is to tug them to the good side of the fence.”