A king among men

Published 8:17 am Monday, August 18, 2014

By David Vitrano

The Daily News

Hundreds of local residents packed the pews at Annunciation Catholic Church in Bogalusa Saturday to pay their last respects to a man who, by all accounts, gave so much to the community he called home.

Samuel Gregory Genco, known by all as Greg, passed away at his home early Tuesday at the age of 65.

Greg graduated from Bogalusa High School, where even at such a young age he stood out from his peers.

“In high school, he won everything,” said his brother, Gary Genco. “Greg was good at every subject. He did incredible things.”

After high school, Greg pursued a law degree for a semester, but that was not the path he would ultimately take.

“After one semester, he decided to follow his true passion,” said Gary.

His true passion turned out to be working with children in the Bogalusa City School System. As a teacher, he touched the lives of many of the students — and teachers — who worked with him. Of the many special ways he changed those children’s lives were the annual bus trips to the nation’s capital. Not only did he offer these students an opportunity many of them would never have had otherwise, but he made sure to use the long bus ride in a positive way.

“On bus trips, he’d spend one-on-one time with each child,” said Gary.

“He wanted every child to succeed,” added brother Stephen Genco.

The school system also recognized his passion, and according to Gary, “He got teacher of the year more than half of the years he taught.”

Eventually, Greg worked his way through the school system rising to the position of superintendent, a title he held until the end of 2004.

After retiring from the school system, Greg remained involved in the lives of the children of Washington Parish, chairing the Children’s Coronation and taking a leadership role in many of Annunciation Catholic Church and School’s various celebrations.

Another family member, Ken Jenkins, remembered a particularly profound habit Greg had to help the community’s graduates. Jenkins said Greg used to fill his trunk with clock radios — Greg was an avid collector of clocks — and would stop any recent graduates he saw and give them one of the clock radios to remind them of the importance of punctuality. It was an act that stayed with many of them for a lifetime.

“Mr. Genco was an extraordinary person. He was a principal of mine. He chaperoned my eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., and he gave me the clock radio that got me through college. Farewell. I love you!” wrote Leah Long Haynes of Hayynesville, La., on Poole-Ritchie Funeral Home’s website.

Stephen joked, “We never had any problem knowing the date or time.”

To Stephen, this impassioned and generous nature was no surprise. He said once when the brothers were children, Stephen and Greg were walking along a wide, engorged ditch during a rainstorm when Stephen slipped into the rapidly-flowing water.

“Greg was 10 and jumped in and saved me,” said Stephen.

His generous nature was no secret to a large portion of the local community either.

“He helped everybody,” said Greg’s younger brother, Bryan Genco. “He helped people that we didn’t even know.”

Indeed, the online comments attached to Greg’s obituary on the Poole-Ritchie website spanned some 11 pages as of Saturday, and the sentiments contained therein paint a picture of a man who meant much to many.

“My dear friend Greg, I will miss you so. Your kindness, your humor, your unending thoughts of helping others, our funny conversations…no more. I was blessed to know you,” wrote Sandra Stewart of Bogalusa.

Shaun Roberson of Poplarville, Miss., wrote, “Although I am not originally from Bogalusa, when I met Mr. Greg, it was like meeting a long time friend. He was always very encouraging and always with a smile on his face.”

Andrea Beard of Bogalusa noted, “Greg has always been very kind to me. He would call and order breakfast at the Big Easy and would always want to speak to me because he said I always got his order right. He was such a special person and will truly be missed by all.”

Another comment hinted at the remarkable impact Greg had on some local families.

“Greg was truly an icon in the community and will be sadly missed. We have him to thank for our latest grandson, Finn Duke. It was through his faith that Finn was possible. Truly a miracle. One he performed for many childless couples. We’ll never forget him,” commented Danny Stewart of Bogalusa.

According to his brothers, Greg would provide a statue of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, to families struggling to have children, and this action combined with prayer often proved successful.

His gifts, his brothers said, always came from the heart and more often than not came from Greg’s own hands as well. Gift giving was more than an obligation for Greg, who gave so many gifts at Christmas he needed assistance distributing them.

“He always put other people before himself,” said Gary.

As further testament to the profound effect Greg had on the people with whom he came into contact, he was godfather to 38 children.

What’s more, his extensive community involvement — even after retirement he held leadership positions in many local civic organizations — and his compassion for his fellow man had no ulterior motive, masked no visions of personal grandeur.

“He was not a pretentious person,” said Gary, who noted Greg earned several academic degrees in his lifetime.

Even as his health faltered in recent months — Greg’s heart problem were first recognized in 1988 when a doctor gave him less than a year to live — Greg remained determined to hold others in higher regard than he held himself. His brothers said on more than one occasion they urged him to let others do for him in his time of need, a request Greg dismissed summarily.

Still, when someone is so beloved, a little collateral celebrity status is inevitable, and Greg was recognized by his peers on many occasions. He was awarded the St. Louis Medallion from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was named the Bogalusa Citizen of the Year in 1973 and was crowned King MCCA X.

Regarding the latter, Greg — never one to do things halfway — made a grand entrance atop an elephant, setting a precedent that persists to this day.

“Greg set the bar,” said Gary.

So on Saturday, Aug. 16, the community that he touched so deeply came out in droves to bid a fond farewell to a man who was mentor, colleague, brother, teacher and friend.

Said Bryan, “Even though that’s my brother, I wish I could be half the man he was. He was our role model. He was the best.”