Eugene Boyd Gauger, Sr., 86, died Monday, April 29, 2019 at Oswego Hospital after several months of declining health. Gene was born on May 3, 1932 at home on the family farm in Town of Victory, Cayuga County, NY. He was the 6th of 7 children to Karl Friedrich Gauger and Louise Alice Mildred Boyd Gauger. They lived in a rural area west of Cato, NY. They had a small farm and Gene did his share of chores.
In School, Gene lettered in 3 sports; Football, Basketball, and Baseball. He was also active in Future Farmers of America (FFA). When he was 14, he met the love of his life, Nila Fay Hungerford; she was 12. They married in August of 1950 just 3 days after Fay turned 16. Gene Gauger, Jr. was born one week shy of a year after their wedding. In the afternoon, after school, he worked at a bowling alley setting pins. This was way before the pin setting machines did it automatically. He picked them up and set each pin one at a time. After high school, Gene was hired on at the Bitz family’s Plainville Turkey Farm. He was the one who zapped the turkeys as they were hung by the feet and traveled past him so that they could be processed for slaughter.
When the Korean Conflict broke out, he tried to join the Army, like many of his siblings and other young men of the time. He was categorized as 4-F due to 2 ruptured ear drums, a double hernia and a mostly missing big toe on one foot due to a lawn mowing incident when he was 8 years old. He cut it off while mowing with a rotary mower barefoot. The toe was saved by his brother and sewn back on, losing most of the nail. He wanted to do other things with his life and be his own boss. Eventually he learned about this new process called sheet rocking which was rapidly replacing the old lathe and plaster method of creating walls and ceilings in buildings. He worked with someone else till he thought that he knew enough to make a go of it.
The post-war (WWII) building boom was still going on. Baby Boom was in full swing. Many people needed homes with room for growing families. He found his niche and eventually he employed many crews of sheet rockers and finishers. 10s of thousands of homes have been built by Big “G” Drywall and Gauger and Sons Drywall through the years. His specialty was to create “swirl ceilings” with thinned down drywall mud. He was well known for his accuracy in lining up the design for best effect. These homes stretch from all over Syracuse, Auburn, and west to Williamson, Webster and many other communities. He also worked some commercial buildings and many, many apartment buildings. He taught all of his sons, quite a few nephews, and a few grandchildren how to hang and finish sheetrock. He ran this business for 54 years. Gene Jr., Tim, Ted, and Darren all had his own drywall business at one time; Ted and Darren still work it as TCG Drywall and Big D Drywall, respectively. Craig has used his skill in drywall with Habitat for Humanity homes and rebuilding after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Tim ran the Gauger Drywall for many years. Todd worked for Dad and various brothers finishing drywall.
Gene also had a lot of side interests including building and running a restaurant in Meridian, NY which employed many people for years. That building was renovated to become the Pine Hill Medical Center in use still. He was always trying to help the communities of Cato and Meridian. While his restaurant was in business, the new Cato-Meridian Lions Club was chartered and met there. A few months after their beginning, he was asked to join. He remained a Lion from 1973-2013. He held most offices at the club level and was also a Zone Chair and a Regional Chair at the District level. He was awarded a very high honor for his diligence and became a Melvin Jones Fellow in 1997. He strived to keep a diner of sorts to always be open. Partly as a place for his work crews to gather, partly for a place for the Lions to meet, and thirdly to help the local economy. He also owned the former Goetze’s Fish Stand renamed “Mel’s” in Fairdale, NY. Our sister, Melissa and Mom ran that for several years.
A lot of time and effort were donated to keep the Federated Church in South Hannibal going. Several projects were accomplished without charge to the church. A new roof, the lowering of the sanctuary ceiling, and others were done by Big “G” crews.
During his children’s youth, Dad volunteered to be a baseball coach in Hannibal’s “Little League” for many years. He also sponsored a team at Weedsport’s “Rainbow Lanes” for quite a few years. There was also a BIG “G” softball team for many years.
In their younger times Mom and Dad sponsored clam bakes at the house inviting many friends and family to join in. Lots of clams, salt potatoes, and sweet corn were consumed. In his off-time, he enjoyed playing cards with friends and family. He liked the challenge of poker, but also played fun games of cards. In the 1960’s he bought land in northern NY and built a “camp” for hunting bear and deer. The original building was small and used leftover wood from some project. Eventually, a larger “A” Frame building was erected further into the woods. It’s a nice place to get away though there is no electric or running water. Propane is used for lights and cooking. A lot of people have enjoyed many a weekend at “camp” near Harrisville. Looking at some of the family living rooms and Dad’s “Lodge” in South Hannibal, one can see many bear and deer trophies. Just ask about the great venison and bear meat consumed through the years.
Family reunions were held at the Gauger house and later the Big G Lodge. Family was important to him. He would help anyone in-need. He enjoyed seeing his many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. He and Mom had 7 children, 21 grandchildren, 28 great grandchildren, and 5 great great grandchildren.
His health declined since January this year, he was having memory issues, physical, and mobility issues. He was deeply saddened by the loss of Mom nearly 8 years ago; she kept him focused, losing many other friends and family in recent years, and not being able to remember his cards were big contributors to his decreased health and unhappiness. He will be remembered by many and missed throughout central New York. He made his mark!
Calling hours will be from 2-5 pm on Saturday, May 4 at Foster Funeral Home, 837 Cayuga Street, Hannibal with a funeral service to immediately follow at 5 pm. Burial will be at 10 am on Monday, May 6 at Ira Union (White) Cemetery, 13062 County Route 128, Cato. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Lions Club International Foundation in Gene’s memory.