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Younger, Gene Phillip

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

 

Gene Younger

1936 - 2001

At the age of 26, Gene, along with his bride Marcia, moved to Evergreen from Missouri where they'd graduated from college.  Gene had grown up in Farley, MO.

Gene's passion for serving and for being connected to people caused him to become involved in the community throughout his life here.  He served in many capacities at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.  He was also a committed member of the Blue Spruce Kiwanis Club where he served as president one year and was a delegate to a number of international conventions.

The Building Trades Program

Gene was best known, however, for his influence in the schools where he was first an Industrial Arts teacher (1962-1969) at Evergreen Junior High School, then located where today's public library is now. From 1969-92 he taught industrial arts subjects, driver education and building trades at Evergreen High School where he also coached football and baseball.

Along with fellow teacher Ken Starbuck, Gene designed the EHS Building Trades program. With the support of principal Ralph Dokken, Gene was able to pursue his vision/passion for developing a program that would give students hands-on experience in all design and construction phases of a single-family home, learning a work ethic, and gaining skills they could use for the rest of their lives. He saw it as a vocational program, an alternative to the academic classroom for some students. Gene developed a curriculum and presented the idea to the Jefferson County Board of Education that students would actually design and build a house in Evergreen.

The first of 19 houses was built in 1973, and the program received national television coverage as being innovative and unique. Initially, homes were built close to the school so that class time wouldn't be wasted traveling to the building site. The early homes were in Wilmot Woods and Greenwood, but eventually the program included the building of homes in El Pinal and Hiwan Country Club.

In the early classes there were 30 students in the Building Trades class, 15 in the morning for a 3-hour session and 15 in the afternoon for a 3-hour session. Math credit was given for enrollment in the class. Later, there was only one class per day of about 17 students. At first the classes consisted of all boys, but later in the program some girls chose to enroll. Half of the homes were built using architectural designs created by technical drawing students at the high school the previous year. The Home Economics class designed and implemented the color coordination and worked on other elements of interior design.

Integrity and structure of the home were never problems, as the houses consistently exceeded code requirements. "They worked on it until it was right! recalled Gene's wife, Marcia. "Gene emphasized safety and hard work!"

The Evergreen/Conifer Board of Realtors sponsored the effort, forming a nonprofit corporation to administer the program that spanned two decades. Dave Scruby, then president of First National Bank of Evergreen, went "out on a limb" to finance each of the homes, initially catching flak from bank examiners for doing so. Later, Bank of Evergreen would become an active sponsor of the program, providing financing and other forms of support. The nonprofit corporation served as guarantor of the program. Members of the local real estate community volunteered to arrange for financing from year to year, offered the finished houses for sale on an open listing basis, and completed the paperwork for the closings.

A typical home offered three bedrooms and two bathrooms and sold for $100,000 or more. Profits from the sale of each home were poured back into the program to acquire land for the following year's project and to purchase building materials, tools, and other necessary items. To promote a family feeling amongst those in the class, some of the money was used to provide Building Trades jackets and tool belts.

Each spring there would be an open house for the community to tour the house. Marcia remembers, "When the students showed their parents and others the work they had done, they were exceedingly proud. It was a joyous sight to behold!  Gene put on a steak fry for the students in the fall," said Marcia. "In the spring he took them on a rafting trip to celebrate a job well done. Gene's students knew that he loved them and believed in them."

Students went on to use their acquired skills in their own businesses, some going on to college to major in construction management. "Students felt successful," Marcia reflected. "Gene changed kids' lives. One former student told me a few years ago, 'Gene saved me!,' explaining that he would have dropped out if it hadn't been for Gene and the Building Trades program. It was the epitome of experiential learning."

The Building Trades program ceased soon after Gene Younger retired from teaching in 1992.

Sources: Widow Marcia Younger and Dave Scruby.