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‘At Your Service’: Uncle Gene’s mission lives on, through his legacy and his story

Eugene “Uncle Gene” Verdu (IBJ file photo)

 

By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
macmeske@ibjonline.com

Belleville’s Eugene “Uncle Gene” Verdu passed away in March 2022 at the age of 81, but not before leaving an indelible mark of selfless service on the region, and on the world.

As a young adult, Verdu worked as a missionary and teacher for the Jesuit Papal Volunteers. He also started Sacred Heart School, which is now Sacred Heart College in San Ignacio, Belize.

During his time spent in Belize, he forged countless lifelong relationships. And Verdu honored his dual citizenships in both the United States and in Belize with his continual, tireless efforts to improve lives in both countries.

Returning home, “Uncle Gene” began his efforts to help the children he had encountered in Belize who suffered with severe orthopedic disabilities. Verdu’s tenacity served as the foundation for forming The Belize Children’s Project and bringing together volunteers, business professionals, health care providers at Shriners Hospital in St. Louis, and members of Rotary District 6510 to further this mission.

“At Your Service” is the authorized biography of Belleville’s Eugene “Uncle Gene” Verdu. Authored by Mike Stith of One Legacy LLC, it is now available for purchase, with proceeds to support Verdu’s namesake nonprofit, the Uncle Gene Foundation. (Courtesy One Legacy LLC)

The Belize Children’s Project has now helped well over 400 children and continues a mission of providing vital care to the children of Belize.

Verdu’s vocational path included time spent as a social worker, and later as an educator of senior citizens at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). A skillful grant writer, he had fulfilled a pivotal role in securing federal funds and establishing its Programs and Services for Older Persons (PSOP) in 1973 on the SWIC campus in Belleville. PSOP marked its 50th anniversary in 2023.

Continuing a lifetime of service, Verdu had been a longtime member of the SWIC board of trustees, the former head of the St. Clair County Office on Aging and had served as board chair for the St. Clair County Housing Authority. He was the proud recipient of numerous awards; among them notably was his induction into the Illinois Department of Aging’s Hall of Fame in 2018. He further served as diplomatic Consulate of Belize for the Greater St. Louis area.

The Uncle Gene Foundation was established in his name, with a mission to provide financial assistance and additional means of support for two particularly vulnerable populations: underprivileged children and senior citizens in selected regions around the world.

To learn more about the Uncle Gene Foundation visit www.unclegenefoundation.org.

In November 2023, a much-anticipated authorized biography was released, with the sales proceeds to support the work of the Uncle Gene Foundation.

Author Mike Stith, who is also the co-founder of One Legacy LLC, recently announced the book’s availability. One Legacy is a social enterprise, family-run organization established by Mike and Sonja Stith in 2013 with a mission of sharing stories collected about personal legacies.

“Gene passed away in early 2022, but not before graciously sharing his life story with me,” said Stith. “The book writing process inspired him so much and helped through his darkest days of illness. I think you will enjoy, and be inspired by, the many stories about his life’s journey. Several of his students, friends, and family share testimonials in the book.

“He is referred to as Uncle Gene because he has 27 nieces and nephews in the U.S., but also many friends and former patients in Belize that still call him Uncle Gene,” Stith noted in a 2021 article published by the Illinois Business Journal.

Among the final thoughts Verdu shared with Stith: “I would like my journey and legacy to stimulate young people, especially those who are poor, and teach them that they can make a difference in the world. Never stop trying, never stop giving.”

“At Your Service” shares Verdu’s extraordinary story. Visit online at www.onelegacy.com for further details or to purchase. It is also available through Amazon and Friesenpress.

 

(Editor’s note: This story also appears in the February 2024 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)

 

 

 

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