JONESBORO — Eugene Morris Mitchell, 91, of Jonesboro, son of Morris and Grace, brother to Eleanor and Linda, passed away Monday, July 19, 2021, at St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro.
Though it would be easy to describe Gene as a self-made man, he was clear in his final analysis that all of his best decisions in life were God’s and not his own.
Compelled by his love for God, his family and his country, Gene was many things in life. As a young child during the Great Depression, his family followed work from Thayer, Mo., to Detroit, Mich.
He earned money selling peanuts and breaking down discarded orange crates, selling the wood in bundles.
Having saved his money, he purchased a paper route at the age of 13 and quickly began establishing himself as one of the most prolific paperboys in Detroit, earning his way to the top five in sales in a pool of more than 10,000 routes.
Gene soon began pumping gas and selling bonds in addition to continuing his paper route.
At age 16, Gene returned to the Ozarks and began playing shortstop for the Thayer Men’s barnstorming baseball team in addition to playing semi-pro basketball on the Kirby Shoes Team.
Moving to Jonesboro to play shortstop, he soon had offers in hand from eight Major League Baseball organizations, ultimately choosing to sign with the St. Louis Browns.
In his second year with the Browns, Gene was drafted into service with the U.S. Army where he excelled and was recommended for officer training, eventually becoming a first lieutenant assigned to Fort Benning in Georgia where he taught tactics and patrolling, and led a platoon.
Offered admission to West Point, Gene declined to continue pursuing his baseball career. Ultimately, Gene would say that the Army was where he truly learned what his capabilities were.
At the age of 24, Gene’s first of four children with Janet Mitchell (Howard) was born and shortly thereafter Gene moved his young family to California in order to pursue his baseball career.
As with all of Gene’s other major life decisions, God had another plan, and due to uncharacteristic weather and a lettuce frost, winter ball was canceled, forcing Gene to find work outside of baseball.
Settling in Torrance, Calif., Gene began working for McDonnell-Douglas as a die and toolmaker’s apprentice.
While making himself indispensable as a die and toolmaker, Gene began going to college as well as serving as a player-coach for McDonnell-Douglas’s basketball and baseball teams.
Over the course of 12 years, Gene earned multiple degrees including tool design and engineering, all while raising a family of four children with Janet to whom he was married for 25 years.
He was a proud UCLA graduate.
Gene assumed an engineering role at Garrett Air Research and contributed greatly to many aerospace projects that required government security clearance.
Some of his most notable contributions included heat exchange systems for manned space flights, the SR-71 spy plane and a redesigned heat exchange system for the Boeing 747. During his time with Air Research, Gene met and worked with his wife, Sharon, who survives him.
Upon retirement in 1986, Gene and Sharon left California and returned to Jonesboro where Gene owned and managed an apartment building, traded on the stock market, invested in real estate and served in church leadership.
Continuing his lifelong pursuit of athletic excellence, Gene became a mainstay in the Senior Olympics, winning more than 350 medals and competing at the national level. A major point of pride for Gene was his donation of 116 pints of his O negative blood to the American Red Cross.
Gene will be remembered by all who met him as a loving man who immediately endeared himself to everyone he met and who never failed to charm with his unique take on the Happy Birthday song.
His smile was quick and warm, and the twinkle in his eye never dimmed.
He is survived by his loving family: wife of 40 years, Sharon, sister, Linda (Mike), children, Ted (Karen), Mel (Linda), Jana (Fred) and Koni (Dan), stepchildren, Curtis Taylor, Terri Bealer (Gary) and Brian Taylor (Becky), nephews and multiple grandkids and great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro with visitation preceding the service from 1 to 2 p.m.
Quote from Eugene: “The best decisions I have made have been God’s decisions, not my own.”
Online registry: www.emersonfuneralhome.com