The Obit For Gene Manzer

Gene Alfred Manzer

Published in the Tucson Newspapers from 3/11/2009 - 3/15/2009


Gene Alfred Manzer, a Tribute May 29, 1926 - March 9, 2009

Gene A. Manzer passed away on March 9, 2009 in Tucson at the age of 82. He was born on May 29, 1926 in Wellington, Texas to Leland Ashton "Bud" Manzer and Pauline Peeples Manzer.

Gene led a full and varied life that included serving in the Army Air Corps, raising a family, owning a successful insurance business, playing professional baseball, winning the Oro Valley Country Club golf championship and catching trophy fish in Alaska and Canada.

Gene attended Wellington High School and Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri. He then attended the University of Colorado for a few months before entering the Army Air Corps in late 1944. Gene played softball and football at Wellington High and at Kemper – not baseball. However, according to his father, Gene could throw a baseball "through a brick wall." So, before he went to Colorado and undeterred by his lack of experience, Gene attended a St. Louis Cardinals open tryout in Texas. Gene struck out 9 of the 15 men he faced, according to newspaper accounts. He impressed the Cardinals' scouts and was offered a contract. However, his military service intervened and postponed his baseball career.

After his stint in the Army Air Corps Gene decided that he wanted to play professional baseball. Determined, he was admitted to Hall of Famer Bob Feller's baseball school in Tampa, Florida. Gene attracted the attention of scouts from the Detroit Tigers, the New York Giants, the Milwaukee Braves and Atlanta, all offering him contracts. Bob Feller named Gene the best prospect among the school's southpaw pitchers. Gene finally signed with the Tigers who assigned him to their Muskogee Reds farm club in the Western Association, where he became the youngest man on the team at 19. Not many baseball players can say that their first baseball game was as a professional but this was the case with Gene. Once the minor league press caught wind of this it became a compelling story, much to Gene's chagrin, who had tried to hide the fact.

His baseball adventure included a friendship made in Florida and correspondence that followed with Tigers Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Gene's first year in Muskogee was a resounding success. At one point he was 12-4 with four shutouts. However, in those days before pitch counts and athletic trainers, pitchers were called on to throw many pitches, innings and games, all with little rest.

Gene later told his sons that he would regularly be called on to come out of the bullpen to close out a game on the night immediately following a complete game performance.

Newspaper clippings touting his brilliance at such a young age carried headlines such as "Victory is Third in a Row for Texan in Past Six Days." This all from the arm of a young man playing his very first season of baseball at any level. It took its toll.

Gene permanently injured his arm that first season. He played three more years of minor league baseball for Tigers organization teams in Lubbock, Texas; Flint, Michigan and Great Falls, Montana before retiring after the 1949 season.

Gene then attended the University of Arizona where he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. At the UofA Gene met and married local beauty and Tucson High and UofA graduate Sammie Jean Johnson in 1951. They moved to Albuquerque where Stacy, the first of their three children, was born; then back to Tucson where their second child, David, was born before settling in Marana where they resided at the birth of their third child, Gene Allan.

Gene and his family lived in Marana for some 40 years. He owned and operated Marana Insurance Agency for all that time, retiring at the age of 69.

An entrepreneur, Gene also owned farmland and development property. Following the death of Sammie Jean in 1987, Gene married the former Rita Barnett. Gene and Rita later moved to Cortaro.

Gene enjoyed fishing, hunting and golf and, as with baseball and business, experienced success at each avocation. He was a very good golfer who had a 2 handicap at one point. He was Club Champion at Oro Valley Country Club more than once. He was a crack wing shot and skilled angler who enjoyed taking his sons hunting and fishing and teaching them those life skills. His fishing trips ranged from trout fishing during enjoyable summer family vacations in the cool White Mountains to fishing for larger fare in Alaska and Canada. His fishing trophies include a 72 lb. king salmon from Alaska's Kenai River and a 44 lb. lake trout from Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories.

Gene had a good sense of humor and enjoyed pulling people's legs, especially his children's. While Gene was landing trout after trout during those family fishing trips in the White Mountains, his children would ask him, "Dad, what are we doing wrong?" He would smile wryly and tell them, "You're not holding your mouth right." Many facial contortions by the kids followed, but not always more fish.

Gene is survived by his wife, Rita; daughter, Stacy Spendlove of St. George, Utah and her sons, Aaron, Geoffrey and Matthew; son, David Manzer, his wife Victoria and children, Adam and Samantha of Anchorage, Alaska; son, Gene Allan Manzer, his wife Mary and their sons, William and James of Lake Forest, Illinois and Gene Allan's children, Megan, David and Weston of Downers Grove, Illinois.

Gene was preceded in death by his first wife, Sammie Jean; his father, "Bud;" mother, Pauline; father and mother-in-law, John and Sammie Johnson and granddaughter, Kelly Spendlove.

We will miss you Dad.