Dr. Gene Milener, Professor and Oneonta Historian, Dies at 89
Dr. Eugene Darden Milener III, 89, formerly of Oneonta and Cooperstown, and retired chairman of Hartwick College’s Economics Department, died on Jan. 8, 2020, in Naples, Fla. He chaired the City of Oneonta’s Bicentennial Celebrations Committee helped found the tennis club on Rose Avenue.
Gene was born in Baltimore, Md., on May 3, 1930. He was the only child of Eugene II and Eleanor. The family moved to New York City.
Young Gene demonstrated excellence in his varied areas of interests. He was quarterback for his school’s football team. To pass the time while manning a booth at the local fair, he taught himself to be an expert juggler. He played first board on his school’s chess team. He was a camp coach for several summers north of New York City. He learned to sail single person sail boats. Above all, Gene excelled at running track.
Gene attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. There he founded and built the school’s track team and won track meets too numerous to list. After college graduation, the Army contacted Gene to recruit him to its track team. But not long after, budget cuts canceled the team.
Decades after Gene ran his last track meet, Hampden-Sydney had established its own sports Hall of Fame and invited Gene to attend and be inducted.
Gene married Gwendolyn Wilson in New York on June 1, 1957. Son Eugene IV was born in 1958. With Gwen pregnant with daughter, Lee, the new family moved from New York City to Oneonta in 1960, where they raised their family and enjoyed life for four decades. Son, Scott was born in 1967.
Gene was chairman of the Economics Department at Hartwick College. For his first few years at Hartwick, Gene was also the tennis coach. Gene won more tennis tournaments in and around Oneonta than we can remember, some with Gwen. Later, son, Scott became far better at tennis than his father had ever been, making Dad proud.
Gene was the Oneonta City historian. As America’s bicentennial approached, Mayor James Lettis recruited Gene to chair the city’s celebrations committee. The July 4, 1976, parade down Main Street and the fireworks show at Damaschke Field are events still remembered by Oneontans.
Gene was also leader of the small, private group that set themselves the goal of having an indoor tennis facility built on Oneonta’s Rose Avenue.
Gene had a chance encounter with local historian, Ed Moore. Their conversation gave Gene the idea of expanding his PhD dissertation into a book. In 1983, Gene’s book “Oneonta: The Development of a Railroad Town” was published. Gene completed updates for the book’s third edition only weeks before he died.
By the late 1990s, Gene had retired from Hartwick.
He purchased the Riverside Village & RV Park, in Portlandville. He made numerous improvements to the property and sold it a few years later for a deserved profit.
Soon Gwen was selling her successful Better Homes & Gardens DeMulder Realty business and the couple transitioned to Cooperstown. By 1995, they had fully retired to Naples, Fla. Gwen died in 2018 following a long illness.
Living alone for his final few years, Gene was never one to sit around the house and waste the hours. At home he swam almost daily. He went on sailing trips in the Atlantic with his old college pal, Harvey. He engaged with Naples social clubs, played golf, went out to dinner or watched games at the local watering hole, ground large rocks into pots for plants and became a prolific sender of letters and photos through the U.S. Postal Service.
Gene loved his life and felt very lucky about it all. His adult children understand how this strong, dynamic man had created much of his luck by his energy and hard work.
Gene is survived by his children, Eugene Darden Milener IV (Amy Eaton), Lee Hope May and Scott Wilson Milener (Phyllis). He was the proud grandfather of Patia Eaton, Sara Eaton, Caitlyn Basile, Morgan May and Kennedy Milener.
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