Eugene Martinson, a great and gentle spirit whose life spanned nearly a century, passed away on June 30, 2020 in Duluth, MN at the age of 99. He was born on December 22, 1920 in Superior, WI to Martin and Magda "Margaret" (Bartness) Martinson. Their joy of Eugene's birth was doubled by the birth of his twin sister, Eunice.
Modest, unassuming, yet full of charm and boyish good-looks, Eugene can best be remembered by the sweet sound of his harmonica - each song a gift rendered with artistry, earnestness, passion and joy. Picture him - Greek fisherman's cap jauntily askew, light blue eyes with far-away look, tapping his toe and holding the last sweet note of a song so long it made you want to cry. "Deep Purple", "Poor Butterfly", "Harbor Lights", "Fascination" - the songs of his soul and his era. Eugene, romantic in spirit yet pragmatic in action. How his family and friends adored him!
Eugene was a first-generation American child born to Norwegian parents who emigrated from Oslo and Trondheim in the early 1900's. His maternal grandparents, Magnus and Gurine Bartness, also emigrated and were conduits of Norwegian culture for their young grandson.
Eugene grew up in Superior, WI in a modest house which still stands on Lamborn Avenue. The Wall Street crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression forged Eugene's character; out of necessity he learned to be resourceful, thrifty, prudent. He learned to work hard and to save what he earned. He came to value simple entertainment like playing cards and games with friends and family - a pursuit he never stopped enjoying.
It didn't take much to make Eugene happy - just a little harmonica, a friend, a silly face or hat, paddling a canoe on a placid lake. He was magnificent company - easy-going, emotionally grounded, deeply intelligent. He graduated from Central High School in 1939 with a report card showing straight A's in English class; he considered becoming a journalist.
But world events intervened as World War II crept closer. Eugene went to work as a welder for the Zenith Dredge Shipbuilding Company in Duluth; he welded the steel hulls of ships while being suspended, mid-air, on scaffolding - all part of the war effort and not for the faint of heart.
In 1942 Eugene married a lively and pretty girl from his neighborhood, Helen Luella Sherman. They honeymooned in Milwaukee and Chicago. But against the backdrop of WW II, it wasn't long before Eugene shipped out to the Pacific front aboard the USS Benson (DD 421) courtesy of the US Navy. For a young man from Superior who hadn't traveled farther than Chicago, this was a big deal.
The destroyer on which Eugene served coursed through typhoons on route to the South Pacific; the ship docked in the Caroline Islands and in the Philippines. Ultimately, Eugene and his crewmates became an occupational force in Yokohama, Japan after the U.S. dropped bombs to end the war. Gene recalled the excitement of watching an unprecedented moment of history unfold before his eyes after Japan's Emperor Hirohito announced surrender. From the deck of the USS Benson 421, Eugene was able to watch Japanese ministers sign documents of surrender as they stood on the deck of the nearby USS Missouri.
After the war, Eugene and Luella bought a house in Milwaukee, WI where they lived until 1955. Then they moved to the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth, MN. They had two children, Ronald and Judy. The family took road trips to California, and visited National Parks along the route. Eugene owned a beautiful green canoe with wooden ribs and a canvas exterior; the family often camped, fished and enjoyed the outdoors. Luella and Eugene were married for 24 years, until 1966 when Luella drilled a hole in the beloved canoe.
Gene wore many career hats and always had the golden touch with people. He was gregarious, yet calm. He was intuitive, unflappable and empathetic. He had an unfailing moral compass. Being with people was the joy of his life. He worked well with everybody and was always well-liked. He was employed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an insurance agent. Later he worked for Stephenson Realty as an agent and appraiser. Finally he shifted to hotel management, spending many years employed by Hotel Management Systems in Colorado, North Dakota and Minnesota. He hated retirement and returned to work when he was in his 80's to help manage another hotel.
Eugene was married a second time in 1970 to Martha Lillian Kapuscinski. He became a step-father to Martha's four daughters who grew to love him as their own. He was the perfect father. If you cooked for Eugene, he'd tell you (every time) it was the best meal he'd ever had. If you gave him ice cream, he'd say, "There's nothin' like it!" If you bought expensive gourmet coffee beans to grind for him, he'd drag out his Folgers and tell you with a French accent that he'd make you some "Foliere's".
Eugene and Martha enjoyed their cabin at Spring Lake, near Hayward, WI. They canoed, fished, and received countless cabin visitors who all played endless games of cribbage and zilch. When at home in Duluth, they partied in the basement, referred to as "The Pit", where Eugene played music with a little band of music friends. They led a happy life, full of friends and family, and were married for thirty years until Martha's death in 2000.
Two weeks before he died, Gene looked out the window at the little forest of green in his backyard and exclaimed, "Life is so beautiful". Now we can only hope that if we listen carefully, we might just hear the sound of Gene's harmonica drifting toward the horizon.
Eugene was preceded in death by his first wife, Helen Luella Schlichting; second wife, Martha Lillian Martinson; parents; daughter, Jan Higgins; grandson, Thomas W. Higgins; twin sister, Eunice Galbawy; and brother, Raymond Martinson.
Eugene is survived by his son, Ronald Martinson; daughters, Judy (Ted) Mullen, Darlene Watson, Linda Sonntag, and Dawn Kapuscinski; grandchildren, Spencer (Kellie) Martinson, April Rudek, Jason Watson , Nicholas Watson, Greg (Elizabeth) Sonntag, Jeff Sonntag, and Kelly Higgins; great-grandchildren, Zac Rudek, Austin Rudek, Zander Martinson, Laura Martinson, Julia Martinson, Colton Higgins, Aili Kleven, Madison Sonntag, and Nicholas Sonntag; and nieces and nephews, Gregory (Sherry) Martinson, Dale Martinson, Lee (Teresa Kost) Martinson, Nancy (James) Block, Jane (Randy) Stoeckel, Elaine (James) Holloway, and Chris (Joe "Pepe") Oulahan.
No services will be held in this time of Covid-19. Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave. Floor 17 Chicago, IL 60601. https://www.alz.org/about/annual-report
The family would like to extend heartfelt thanks to St. Luke's Hospice Services for all the kind and loving care they so patiently provided for Eugene and his family. They also thank St. Luke's Homecare for caregivers who were dedicated, wise, and infinitely kind. Eugene could not have been home without this care. We are indebted to you.
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