Eugene “Gene” Huffine was born on November 19, 1927 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Chester Huffine and Elizabeth Minch Huffine, the oldest of six children. He grew up in a poor family, spending his early years living with his family in his grandmother’s house. His early memories included living on a farm and his father cleaning delivery trucks, including waking him up in the middle of the night to eat melting ice cream that he would recover from the trucks. Gene was a shy child and an avid reader from an early age. He played football in high school where he broke his nose. He graduated from Saint Xavier High School in 1945.
Gene’s early exposure to racism and racial segregation deeply troubled him and he started taking action from the time he was 10. As a young adult he first formed an anti-racism group in Louisville later leading to his involvement with Friendship House, a Catholic interracial justice organization. As an employee of Friendship House he spent time in Harlem, Portland, OR and Chicago, where he met his wife, Imogene “Genie” Huffine. They married in 1958 and intentionally settled in one of the most integrated neighborhoods in Chicago, Hyde Park, where they lived for over 30 years. Gene graduated from Loyola University with a Bachelor’s degree in 1962. The next year he started teaching high school English at Hales Franciscan. He graduated from Chicago State University with a Masters of Arts degree in 1971, the first in his family to reach that level of education. Gene spent most of his career teaching at South Shore High School, retiring in 1994. He was a union representative and happily brought his children along with him to walk the picket line when there was a teacher’s strike.
While he took great pride in being a teacher, that was exceeded by his pride in being a father. Because he worked similar hours to his children, he was often around the house when they were and was equally involved in their up-bringing. He always treated his wife as his equal and all decisions were mutually decided. He did half the cooking and regularly helped around the house. As the only one who drove, he was tasked with being chauffer for the entire family, which he never complained about, regardless of how many different stops he needed to make. Seeing his children leave the family home was particularly difficult for him, although this ultimately led to greater closeness with his wife as they had more time to do a variety of cultural activities together including regularly attending concerts and plays as well as visit with friends.
Gene took up jogging when he was 50 and this became one of the great passions and joys of his later life, the highlight of which was completing the Chicago Marathon in 1983. He was heart-broken when he had to give up running in his late 70’s due to injuries and was never quite the same after that.
He was a former board member of Circle Pines Center, a cooperative camp in Michigan where the family regularly camped and the children spent two weeks in overnight camp throughout their growing up years. He loved to read: fiction, non-fiction, and many of the classics. He also loved books and collected thousands of them over the years. It was appropriate that he spent the majority of his adult years in two of the locations with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world: Hyde Park and Portland, OR.
He and Genie moved to Portland, OR in 1997 to be closer to their children (all of whom lived in the area) post-retirement. When day to day household responsibilities became too much for them, they moved to Terwilliger Plaza in 2012 where he lived until his passing. After suffering from dementia and congestive heart disease for a number of years he died peacefully on October 15, 2016 from complications from a stroke, surrounded by his family.
He was a man of sharp mind, strong opinions, and could passionately debate topics he believed in. He was a classic political liberal, displaying deep compassion for those who were oppressed and mistreated. He and his wife donated to dozens of progressive causes over the years and also regularly volunteered to provide food and assistance to homeless families in the Portland area through his Catholic church, St. Philip Neri. Witnessing the election of the first African American (who also, appropriately, was from Hyde Park) was particularly powerful vindication for his lifelong efforts to promote racial justice and equality.
He is survived by his children, Chris, Rachel and Beth Anne and grandchildren Kevin Rieschel, Benjamin Huffine, and Jeffrey Ottenad. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Genie, who passed in July 2015. A celebration of life was held on Saturday December 17th at Terwilliger Plaza in Portland, OR. The family suggests memorial contributions be sent to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC or the Southern Poverty Law Center.