Friday, November 05, 2010

Gene Johnson McKeever, Central Hillside Neighborhood Hero

“Kids have always been in my life,” Gene Johnson McKeever says and her decades of service to Duluth’s youth have certainly shown that. As one of Duluth’s longest serving volunteers, Gene is always eager to help bring art, life, and laughter to the community she loves.

Raised in North Dakota, Gene moved to the Hillside and has lived here for over 40 years. After sending her six children to college, she decided to go herself, graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Gene worked for Duluth’s Parks & Recreation Department for many years, coordinating youth programs from across Duluth and often bringing her grandchildren to help. She finished her career at Neighborhood Youth Services, retiring three years ago. Herb Bergson, then Mayor of Duluth, proclaimed June 18, 2007 as Gene McKeever Day in honor of her many years of service.

Gene has volunteered with the Central Hillside Community Club, Duluth Head Start, the NAACP, Life House, St. Mark AME Church, and several block clubs over the years. She formed the Hillside Garden Society, organized many National Night Out celebrations and a support group for fellow parents, advocated bringing the Washington Studios Artists Cooperative to the Hillside, organized cleanups, and has mentored several young mothers over the years. One year, Gene even gave Christmas lights to all her neighbors on Lake Avenue to light up the hill.

Growing up with parents that were always volunteering, Gene feels their civic engagement rubbed off on her. An avid photographer, she enjoys capturing the many beautiful moments of the Hillside and often displays her work in the Central Hillside Community Center and the Damiano Center, both focal points of the neighborhood. She thrives on the diversity of the Hillside and feels connected to Lake Superior. Loved and respected by generations of Hillsiders, whose lives she has touched over the years, Gene continues to teach, mentor, and live.