Gene is the son of Dan Verbrugge and Mae (Storms) Verbrugge and was born and raised on the Verbrugge family farm outside of Humboldt, Iowa. He graduated from Humboldt High School in 1941 at the age of 16.
From a young age Gene knew he wanted to be a pilot, so he enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. On November 11, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. By the end of World War II, Gene was a 21-year-old B-29 bomber pilot. Gene continued flying in the Army Air Corps through its transformation to the US Air Force, including flying cargo around the Western Pacific, based at Clark Airbase in the Philippines.
In 1949 Gene used the GI Bill to attend Iowa State University and graduated with a degree in Engineering. Gene was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity and the Freemasons. He continued to find ways to fly during his studies, including picking up jobs as a crop duster. Upon graduation, Gene’s first job was as Jet Engine Engineer with Allison, a division of GM. He was based at their factory in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Meanwhile, back in Humboldt, Iowa Gene’s mother, Mae (Storms) Verbrugge happened to meet with visiting Humboldt native, Charlotte (Cunningham) Eastlack, who said that her daughter was also living in Indianapolis. A blind date was arranged, and so Gene met his soon to be wife, Anna Mae Eastlack. They were married on May 30, 1954 at the Congregational Church in Humboldt.
The couple then moved to the Mojave Desert, settling in Lancaster, California. Gene was assigned to Allison Flight Test at Edwards Air Force Base, working on the 4 engine B-45 Tornado, America’s first operational Air Force jet bomber. During his time at Edwards Air Force Base, Gene met and worked with several “Right Stuff” people, including future Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper and Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong. Gene moved on to Convair Corporation, where he was Flight Test Engineer for two successful Delta Winged Supersonic Interceptors, the F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-106 Delta Dart. In 1959, Gene left Convair for Lockheed’s new division, Missiles and Space, which was based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gene, Anna, and their growing family settled in San Jose, where they would live the rest of their lives. Gene worked 30 years for Lockheed, primarily as a Satellite Test Controller in an Air Force building nicknamed the “Blue Cube”. This building eventually became the Onizuka Air Force Station.
Gene piloted 61 different types of aircraft throughout his life in aviation, from military trainers, bombers, and cargo planes to various small planes. He served on the original San Jose Airport Commission in the mid-1960s, as the airport grew from a small General Aviation airport into a large International Airline airport. Gene continued to fly as a private pilot, mostly flying single engine Cessnas, until he was 72 years old.
From 1955 to 1960, Gene and Anna had 4 children. As the children were growing up, many family outings and vacations were based on the whole family flying to various interesting destinations, including visiting relatives in Humboldt, Iowa.
Gene’s older brother Durand passed away before Gene. Gene was survived by 3 younger brothers: Robert, Adrian, and William.
Gene and Anna were married 62 years and have 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren:
● John Verbrugge (Denise) – Grandsons Matthew, Andrew (Ashley), and Steven (Amanda). Great-grandchildren Weston (Matthew), Avery (Andrew) Maren and Bria (Steven).
● Janet Verbrugge-Gee, (Norm) – Grandsons Jonathan and Christopher
● Mark Verbrugge (Kathy) – Grandchildren Alena and Austen
● Elizabeth “Betsy” Mielke (Jim) – Grandchildren Kate, Luke, and Sam
Graveside services for both Gene and his wife Anna will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, September 30th at Union Cemetery in Humboldt. The Mason-Lindhart Funeral & Cremation Service is in charge of the arrangements.