Focus on history: The jockey and the artist

PHOTOGRAPHER:

   Lou Hildebrandt, Sr., a thoroughbred jockey for Amsterdam’s Sanford Stud Farm, and Grace Gilbert, a visual artist, went together in their later years.

    Lou and Grace were married before.  Lou wed Betty Sheridan of Amsterdam, in 1940.  They raised three children.

   Amsterdam native Grace Cermola met a Texan, Clinton Wayne Gilbert, when both were students at Syracuse University during World War II.  Married for 40 years they raised two sons.

    After graduating from high school in Amsterdam in 1936, Lou, who weighed ninety pounds, signed a five-year contract to be trained as a jockey at Sanford Stud Farm near his home, even though he had not yet been on a horse.  His mentor was Sanford’s legendary Racing Hall of Fame trainer Hollie Hughes.

   Grace’s mother wanted her to study piano.  Their family was musical.  But Grace preferred painting.  She finished college in three years and for 33 years was a public school art teacher.

    Lou rode a Sanford horse at Saratoga in 1940 but his mount, Bea-A-Belle, did not win.  In World War II he was a private at an Army horse training unit in Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  The captain was polo player Laddie Sanford, part owner of Bigelow Sanford carpet.

   Grace’s husband Clinton worked at General Motors in Schenectady after the war.  Laid off in 1959 he secured a post in Westchester County with the State Thruway Authority.  The Gilberts relocated to Mamaroneck and Grace taught art in the Pelham schools until her retirement in 1977.

   After the war Lou won important races for the Sanfords including the Monmouth in New Jersey aboard a big horse, Roundview, in 1947.  Hildebrandt was injured several times and his favorite mount Roundview was incapacitated by illness.

  Lou said, “I discussed the situation with Betty and decided to call it quits.”  Lou had more than 480 mounts in his eleven year Sanford racing career.

   He transitioned from horse racing to horsepower, working as a mechanic and then car salesman for an Amsterdam dealership for 30 years.

   Grace’s husband Clinton retired in 1978 and they moved back to Amsterdam.  Clinton loved the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.

   For many years Grace volunteered at Walter Elwood Museum teaching art classes and serving on the board.  She taught private art classes.  She said, “The community needs art.”  She said every doctor’s wife in the area took her class.  Grace’s husband Clinton died in 1985.

   Lou’s wife Betty died in 1995.  Years later, Lou began keeping company with Grace.

   They both were 1936 graduates of Amsterdam High School.  They met when Lou brought Grace information on a class reunion.

   Grace encouraged Lou to write his 2003 memoir, “Riders Up.”  The book was chosen 2011 book of the year by Amsterdam Reads.  Grace accompanied Lou to public appearances, although she feared horses.

   Lou Hildebrandt died November 25, 2011 at age 93.  His funeral procession made a stop at the Sanford Stud Farm site before proceeding to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Johnson. 

   Grace Gilbert died at age 98 on January 15, 2017.  Grace’s paintings were often inspired by French Impressionists and Dutch Masters, with landscapes depicting colorful scenes and still lifes featuring food and flowers.  She traveled overseas extensively.   

   Numerous winter landscapes and portraits were inspired by Gilbert’s real-life surroundings and friends and family, who posed for her or were painted using photos.

   Lou’s son Sam (Louis Hildebrandt, Jr.) has been active in Friends of Sanford Stud Farm which has led a campaign to preserve some of the farm’s buildings on Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam.  Much of the farm’s acreage has been developed for retail shopping.

More: Life & Arts

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