‘Babe' knew everybody in Wheatland
It won't be the same at the Wheatland Senior Center now that charter member Gene Harrell is gone.
Local residents will still come in Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for camaraderie and lunch, but he isn't there to give the women a hug or show the men his latest bargain find from Denio's in Roseville.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time we were regulars,” said Don Boom of Wheatland, the one remaining charter member. About five men met at 7:30 every morning the center was open, he said. “It was almost like clockwork.”
Eugene “Babe” Harrell, 84, of Wheatland died Feb. 1 after living in the Yuba-Sutter area for 63 years.
Born in El Paso, Texas, he first arrived at Camp Beale in 1943 while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He had previously joined the Army as a 15-year-old - his father signed for him, saying the boy was 17 years old. Apparently a juvenile delinquent often getting in trouble, a judge gave him the choice of the Army or jail, according to son Jim Harrell of Lodi.
Gene's father, a railroad man often gone for days, had a second young wife who didn't discipline the boy and two girls she inherited, according to family legend.
“I really don't know how bad the situation was, but the Army was the best thing that happened to him,” Jim added. “He went into the Army and really liked it. It was structured.”
He even received a good conduct medal while restricted to the base, Jim said with a chuckle, not because of what he did but because “some general was passing through and wanted to hand out medals.”
Gene's parents divorced in the 1920s because his mother was one of the first women to have a pilot's license and was involved in flying, the Wheatland resident once told fellow card players at the senior center.
He had brought his mother's pilot's license to show the group, said friend Jim Rice.
Though Gene wasn't happy about the changes occurring in the little town of Wheatland, he never thought of moving, family members said.
“He liked Wheatland because it was small, he knew everybody,” said Irene, his wife of 65 years.
He kept busy - not only playing cards at the senior center and doing maintenance work, but spending every weekend at Denio's Roseville Farmer's Market.
“He couldn't pass up a bargain,” son Jim said. “He didn't need it ... but if it was cheap enough, he would buy it, then run home and fix it.”
Even then, he didn't keep things. Instead, he liked to trade or give things away.
He bought things not to make money, Jim Rice said. “He just liked to have things and give them to someone else.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Leticia Gutierrez can be reached at 749-4722. You may e-mail her at email@example.com