of Famer, former Cub Gene Oliver, 71, dies
By Dan Tomlin
You could take Gene Oliver out of the Quad-Cities, but you couldn't take the Quad-Cities out of Gene Oliver.
The man who said, "Every path serves a purpose" made sure his path started and ended in the place he grew up, and succeeded in making it a better place.
The former Major League catcher and Quad City sports Hall of Famer passed away late Saturday at age 71, leaving behind a legacy that extended beyond the foul lines.
"Ollie" as he was known to friends, passed away unexpectedly and to the shock of friends and family.
"Saturday afternoon I talked to him and the doctors and nurses said he seemed to be doing just fine," Alleman development director the Rev. Daniel Mirabelli said. Recalling his thoughts about Mr. Oliver, Rev. Mirabelli was quick to note, "He never forgot about Alleman."
As a member of the charter graduating class of 1953 at Alleman, Mr. Oliver kept his roots close to his heart.
Even after Oliver played in the Major Leagues, Rev. Mirabelli remembers Mr. Oliver coming back in January in his green sweatsuit to start getting into condition.
After his playing days were over, Mr. Oliver was a staple at Pioneer sporting events. On nearly every spring afternoon you could find him in the stands taking in an Alleman baseball game, and in the fall you'd hear him as the voice of the Pioneers over the loudspeaker at Alleman football games. He'd have a front row seat at Alleman basketball games, girls or boys, at Morris Gym.
He was also a regular at spring training, specifically Randy Hundley's Cubs Fantasy Camp. There, Mr. Oliver was Mr. Hundley's "mouthpiece."
"He had some of the greatest one-liners any comedian could have," said Mr. Hundley, the fellow former Cub catcher. "I tell people, I wish I had one-tenth of the humor Gene Oliver had."
Many of Mr. Oliver's former teammates have been there to support Mr. Oliver's wife, Marilyn, on Sunday, including a message left from "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks, giving his condolences to the family.
That's nothing new, though. The Cub family always has been there for Mr. Oliver. Earlier this week, Hundley, along with Cub greats Billy Williams and Ron Santo, called their former teammate to check on how he was doing after being operated on the previous week.
Just as his teammates extended open arms to him, Mr. Oliver was ready and willing to give whatever he could to his Quad-Cities neighbors. Just this past fall, when Royal Neighbors of America had its "Make a Difference Day" to support Travis Hearn, he stepped up and was its special guest. The event raised more than $10,000 to support Mr. Hearn and his family.
If you ask anyone that knew Mr. Oliver, they'd just tell you that was Gene being Gene.
"He was always so generous and so gracious," Fr. Mirabelli said.
Mr. Oliver's funeral will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Pius X in Rock Island. His visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wheelan Funeral Home.
For the past four years, Mr. Oliver has been trying to urge the Cubs to a World Series via the newspaper. Starting when the Cubs made a run at the 2003 World Series, Mr. Oliver wrote columns for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Under the column logo of "Cub Reporter," he'd share his thoughts on the close of each season since 2003 and give his perspective on the ensuing season during spring training.
The sports section will miss those musings this spring. However, as far as the Cubs go this season, Hundley's not ruling out a little help from above this year as the Cubs try to end nearly a century without a World Series.
"We all hope we could see the Cubs win a pennant or World Series," Mr. Hundley said. "So you know, Ollie's going to be politicking up there for some fate to be with them. They don't make Gene Olivers very often."