I would always smile when my phone would ring at The Herald-Whig and I saw Gene Hutter's name pop up on caller ID.
It was always easy to predict the first words of every conversation with him. I would answer with a "hello" and then wait.
"Eighinger?!" the voice at the other end of the line would say. "Hutter here!"
I used to look forward to that gravelly, good-natured tone, and most times when Gene called I knew he had an idea for a story. Many of his thoughts dealt with helping someone in need or offering praise to an individual who might otherwise go unnoticed.
That's the kind of guy Gene was, and that's why I'll miss him and those phone calls. Gene died this week at age 94, after a long and fruitful life.
Many knew him from his successful business ventures -- for starters, he was involved in the petroleum industry for more than 50 years. He was equally dedicated to helping his community.
Personally, I will always be grateful Gene's efforts to bring back the Soap Box Derby to Quincy. Now known simply as the Quincy Derby, Hutter worked tirelessly to re-establish what is now believed to be the second-largest event of its kind in the nation.
"His vision was to offer our area youth an event they could work on directly with a parent, grandparent or supporter and develop a deeper relationship with them," said Chris Huseman, who was the first director of the reincarnated derby from 2005-11. "Look at what it has become today because of his vision for such a wonderful event."
That's the kind of guy Gene was. He was an integral part of a lot of great things that few knew about. Gene liked to work in the background. He would have been a great secret agent because of his uncanny ability to get things done in a quiet, anonymous fashion.
"We have lost a tremendous individual, to say the least, and I have lost a mentor and a friend," said Huseman, who is now an associate professor of marketing at Liberty (Va.) University. "But the fruits of his vision and encouragement remain alive and well."
Hutter, a 1942 graduate of Barry High School, once told me his biggest thrill with being connected with the derby was when the Super Kids division became a reality in 2015. The Super Kids are those with physical or intellectual challenges.
"I will never forget the tears of a grandma who had a grandson in one of those races," Gene said. "Nothing compares to those races."
Ray Wilson has coordinated the derby since 2012, and he, too, has nothing but fond memories of Hutter. The two were longtime partners in the Optimist Club, the group that brought the derby back to Quincy. (Incidentally, it was Hutter, Ralph Peters and Dave Stegeman who started the Optimist Club in 1964.)
"Gene was always more concerned with everyone but himself," Wilson said.
It was kids who always seemed to touch Hutter's heart the deepest, and from the inception of the Super Kids, Gene felt that division was special.
Bryan Main of Quincy Medical Group's Behavioral Health Department once said this about the Super Kids: "What a family carries away from this event will impact them forever."
I can attest to those words. I have witnessed every race in the derby's 15-year history, and there is no question the Super Kids, in particular, tug at heart strings like no other part of the Grand Prix of Gravity.
There is always such incredible joy that accompanies each and every Super Kid participant. They are so excited and so grateful for the opportunity to go down the hill on 18th Street -- just like any other kid.
That, if for no other reason, is why Gene Hutter should never be forgotten.