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Eugene Wheelock Boehne, Jr

February 12, 1937 February 7, 2018
Eugene Wheelock Boehne, Jr
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Obituary for Eugene Wheelock Boehne, Jr

Longtime resident and activist in Boston’s South End, Eugene Wheelock Boehne, Jr. died suddenly on February 7, 2018 in Wales, MA. Gene was born February 12, 1937 in Philadelphia, PA, the son of Eugene W. and Marjorie (Copley) Boehne. He moved from Drexel Hill, PA when he was nine years old, arriving in Wellesley, MA just as the Boston Marathon was running through his town. He eventually took up cross country running but no Marathon! In 1955, he graduated from Wellesley High School and furthered his education at St. Lawrence University, receiving a BA in Sociology in1960.
Unhappily drafted into the US Army in April, 1960, he served in Korea in the 3rd Infantry (7th Infantry Division, 2nd Battle Group), which he discovered was a part of the “Old Guard”. He was stationed right next to the DMZ where he fortunately became a Chaplin’s Assistant (probably because he could type, he used to say). He learned a little Korean and had a great fondness for Korean people and their food for the rest of his life. Discharged in May 1962, after a brief extension due to the Berlin Wall crisis, he had the good fortune to spend a month traveling in Japan with an army friend. In those days, they were able to explore that country in style on soldiers’ pay, and he returned with stories of the Japanese train system and the intense desire of little children to practice their English with him.
Upon returning to the States, Gene enrolled in Boston College School of Social Work, graduating with a Master’s in Community Organization. One of his placements was at the Peabody House in Somerville where he worked with families who had been suddenly and cruelly displaced by the development of the Charles River Park area in Boston’s downtown. He became an organizer at United South End Settlements (USES) of Boston where he worked closely with community residents to avoid the same removal trauma under the federal government’s new Urban Renewal Plan for Boston’s South End. The South End, like many areas in old cities, was considered a slum and needed to be cleared for “renewal”. But many activists were aware of the devastation wreaked on residents in prior plans and fought to ensure that this did not happen again. Plus, a majority of the buildings in that mile square area were beautiful, if somewhat dilapidated, Victorian structures. Gene and others fought to ensure that clearance of salvageable buildings was NOT in the plan and that people who needed to move had places to go. Most people living in the South End today have no idea of the enormous struggle to get street lights, trash collection, police protection, and end the cruising of suburban Johns. Gene worked at the Harriet Tubman House on Holyoke street and became director of the Shawmut Neighborhood Center (both part of USES). Both buildings are now private homes.
Gene and his wife Carolyn (Sweatt) met across the dining table of South End House at 20 Union Park, the administrative offices for USES and a residence for graduate students in social work. Carolyn and Gene were married in 1967 and immediately purchased an old rooming house that they spent years renovating. Other young people were starting to recognize the potential of this “blighted” neighborhood and also purchased old homes and began raising children in this vibrant community. Keridwyn (Keri) Elizabeth and Liam Copley Boehne were both born in the old Boston Lying In Hospital and went on to attend Boston Public Schools, including the Trotter Magnet School and the Boston Latin School.
In the 1970s Gene left USES to become Executive Director of the Church Home Society, an old Episcopal Adoption agency that wanted to change its mission from adoption to youth development. Gene worked with many young people across Massachusetts creating projects and activities that young groups saw as needs in their communities.
In the 1980s Gene took his skill in construction and renovation that he had honed while working on his own home into a partnership to rehabilitate homes in South Boston, a community that was just beginning to address some of its aging structures. It was another new frontier that today is evolving in much the same way as the South End. When the housing crisis of 1987 hit his business hard, he was able to develop a whole new interest in architect designed furniture and the Bauhaus School while managing a small furniture company in the South End. His love of the many styles of chairs was epic and he was always thinking of new designs for this every day product. He would always notice the furniture in movies, magazines, ads, etc. and then love to educate us about them. Next to his encyclopedic knowledge of old cars came – chairs!
Gene and Carolyn celebrated 50 years of marriage in July 2017 in the Town of Wales where they moved in 2013, near their daughter and grandchildren – Eleanor (Ella) Wheelock and Maxwell (Max) Vick, and to be able to park easily. Once Gene began to have breathing problems, South End steep stairs and parking became issues. His death was totally unexpected and sudden and his presence is so very missed by friends and family. Gene also leaves two much loved siblings, Elizabeth (Betsy) Boehne of Dedham and William (Will) Boehne of Hull, and recently, St. Petersburg, FL.
A celebration of LIFE will be held when the flowers that Gene so loved bloom again in June.
Gifts may be made to his beloved Teen Empowerment Center in Boston: www.teenempowerment.org


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