Bernard F. Hillenbrand was the first executive director of the National Association of Counties (NACo) from 1957 to 1982. During his 25 year tenure he built the association from one employee to 120. When he retired from NACo in 1982 he entered Wesley Theological Seminary and was ordained as a minister in the United Methodist Church in 1986. He retired from full-time parish ministry in July 1995. From 1996 to 1998 he was an adviser on counties to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

At Hillenbrand’s 25th NACo anniversary celebration, Senator Daniel
Patrick Moynihan of New York noted: “There are a lot of people in Washington who get paid as lobbyists and there are some people who are lobbyists but there are very few whose representation rises genuinely to the level of public service. Bernie Hillenbrand is one of those men. As much as if he had been in the Congress or the Senate for 25 years, he has represented a great principle of federalism and brought an understanding to the existence of the county as a unit of government.”

The New York Times in December 1981 called Hillenbrand the “lobbyist who put counties back on the map of politics.” John Herbers of the Times wrote, “Smart people keep an eye on Mr. Hillenbrand. He has long been known as one of the shrewdest, toughest operatives that Congress and the White House have to deal with.” In February 1982 the Washingtonian magazine named him one of the “One Hundred Most Influential People in Washington.” In addition to being the chief executive officer of the counties’ association and overseeing a staff of 120, Mr. Hillenbrand wrote a syndicated newspaper column which was used by 175 newspapers across the country.

Before becoming NACo’s executive director he was assistant director of the National League of Cities. He also worked for the states of New York and Wisconsin and the Mayor of Syracuse, New York, his hometown. He received his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse. He received his master’s degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary.

Hillenbrand is a Purple Heart combat infantry veteran and saw action in three European battles of World War II while serving with the “Big Red One” First Infantry Division in the capture of Aachen., Germany and the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest

He is a Democrat, a member of the Cosmos Club and a Senior Fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration. He is married to Aliceann Wohlbruck the former Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO); has four children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren. They reside in Washington, DC and at Hillenbruck Farm in Sharpsburg, Maryland.