GENE IN SERVICE
By Jerry Cannon
I came to first know Gene from our time in the Air Force while we were both stationed at George Air Force Base inVictorville,California. During much of this time, Gene was Elders Quorum president, and it was a great experience working with him as one of his counselors. He always had so much energy and so much desire to try to serve everyone whether they were active in the church or not. His enthusiasm for things was always infectious, and he was such a great guy that he got a lot of people motivated to do the work.
Back then, each ward had to raise their own budget money, so ours did lots of things to help pay the bills. We always had a cotton candy and corn-on-the-cob booth at the fair. One time we tore down and salvaged all the wood from an old barracks at a base nearSan Bernardinothat they were closing down. But our main project was catering dinners. About twice per week, we’d end up catering for the Chamber of Commerce or other groups. When we finished, we’d always have leftover food, so we’d put it all in big, two-quart bottles with wide mouths: mashed potatoes in one, gravy in another, vegetables in another, and so forth. Gene and I would then quite often drive it out to a family in the ward who lived quite a ways out of town in a rough, low-income neighborhood.
The first time we took the leftover food to them, I had a big flashback to the old “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies, and one of the films in particular in which someone brings the Kettles some food and is told to put it on the table. The Kettles are a hillbilly family with fifteen kids who live in quite a bit of squalor. The guy with the food looks at the table, and it’s just full of dishes and pots and pans and stuff—there is even a live chicken standing on it—and there is just no place for him to put the food. To fix that, Ma Kettle simply goes over and with the back of her arm scrapes a bunch of it off the table and onto the floor. After we delivered the food that first time, I shared my memory of this movie with Gene, and we had a good laugh. I think he remembered seeing that movie as well.
We’d visit this family quite regularly, and it was always pretty much the same situation. Several times when we’d come, we’d see some of the food we had left on the previous visit still on the table, much of it with stuff now “growing” in it from its not having been refrigerated. After a few months, Gene called me up to ask what I was doing that next Saturday because we needed to help this family move out. As the wife explained to Gene, apparently the family’s neighbors had told them that if they didn’t move, they were going to kill them.
Not willing to risk that, the family decided to move, and so Gene and I and four or five others went out to help pack them up. It was a nightmare, with still-dirty dishes in the sink (and even other dirty ones put away in cabinets), and piles of filthy clothes in every room. And most difficult of all was the fact that there were wadded-up, dirty diapers in most every room. This was back in the day when all diapers were cloth, so it was a real challenge to pick these up, knowing that all of their contents were still in them—some likely there for weeks. Gene even found one between the seat cushion and back of an overstuffed chair in the living room. It had been there so long that it had fully dried even though it was wadded up and crammed into that space with no air able to circulate around it.
We eventually got the job done, moving the family to their new place, which was out of our ward boundaries. As we finished, I said to Gene, “Wow, what a blessing to not have to be concerned with them anymore!”
Well, Gene got on my case a little bit. They needed our help, and it’s not for us to be glad that they moved. We should be more concerned about taking care of them. Gene was a lot more spiritual than I was. I was not too sympathetic to people who lived like this when it seemed they should be able to do better. Gene had a lot more experience with different kinds of people, being a returned missionary and just being around and having seen more of life. He was also a bit older than I was, and this was kind of my first shot at seeing the real world. So he called me out about my attitude.
This is just one example of Gene and his loving, kind, and compassionate attitude that he always had. Another example of Gene’s spirit came in an event that began in Sunday School. During one class, the issue of blacks and the priesthood unfortunately came up (this is many years before the revelation). There were lots of opinions expressed, and Gene handled them very well as his level of intelligence was so high compared to all of us dough heads. Well, this class period the discussion was going okay until one sister shared her opinion that not only blacks should never hold the priesthood, but it was already also wrong that Mexicans were allowed to hold it. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well, but the saddest thing was that the lady and her husband sitting behind her got up and left—and never came back to church. This woman was white and a church member, but her husband, Jess, was Hispanic and not LDS. Jess was on our “Prospective Elders” list, so Gene and I had gone to visit with them many times before this incident and our relationship had moved beyond Jess simply becoming someone we visit out of duty. We had become friends. We continued to visit after this Sunday School incident, trying to smooth things over and encourage them to come back at church. We shared over and over how this was just one person’s opinion and that the church was true even though some of the people aren’t too good, or aren’t great thinkers or are not too compassionate. Gene always had a real love for the people he served, and he worked so hard to try to get Jess and his wife back to church. Even though it sadly never happened, at least while I was in the ward, it was very uplifting for me to visit this family with Gene and to hear his comments and watch how he handled this situation. I know that going with Gene helped me develop a better attitude myself and was influential in how I handled things in later positions I held in the church.
I look at Gene as one of my two best friends in the Air Force. Gene was a wonderful, loving, caring person, I can’t even think of all the adjectives I’d like to use to describe Gene and the wonderful kind of person he was.