Avid hiker explored the world and now captures local history

Hiker, backpacker, mountain climber. These are just a few of the interests that have driven Gene Serr to explore the great outdoors. As a young man, he climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the “lower 48″ states, three times – once he even spent a very cold night on top of the mountain. He has also climbed Mt. Shasta and over 20 other 14,000-footers in California and Colorado.

Gene holds an ice axe passed down to him by his father that he used to climb Mt. Shasta and for a winter climb of Mt. Lassen.

Born in Yuba City in 1925, where his dad was a Farm Advisor, his family moved to Stockton where he spent his formative years before moving to Davis where he graduated from high school.

Selected for the Marine College Training Program at UC Berkeley, Gene received a Civil Engineering degree as well as a commission in the USMCR as 2nd Lt.  He was called up for the Korean War, and served a few months at a supply depot in Philadelphia.

His education continued at Colorado State University – receiving a MS in Irrigation Engineering. His Master’s Thesis caught the attention of the US Geological Survey in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he worked for two years before moving back to California with the Bureau of Reclamation in Santa Barbara. While there, Gene helped plan the Casitas Dam on the Ventura River and the Twitchell Dam on the Santa Maria River.

Gene married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Wilson, in Davis in 1951. They eventually had two sons, David and Jeff, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

Nancy, who passed away in 2005, was a wonderful artist. A memorial exhibit of her work was held at the Tehama County Museum in 2011. She worked in a variety of media, particularly oils and watercolor, also silk screen and batik. Beautiful paintings hanging on the walls of Gene’s lovely home attest to her talents. Gene established a Nancy Serr Art Scholarship at Red Bluff High School in 2016.

Gene and Nancy loved to travel. They were able to visit many countries and continents, including Australia – with stops in New Zealand and Tahiti as well. Other trips included China and several visits to Europe. Gene was able to find the small village in Germany where his family had lived before immigrating to the United States a few generations before. Places in the U.S. also provided fun and adventure for them when they took their jeep to Alaska for a driving tour. The beautiful pieces of pottery and carvings Nancy brought from their travels adorn their lovely home.

They spent many of the hot, summer days up at a cabin they owned in Mineral, which was the ideal base camp for their numerous hikes in Lassen Park and surrounding areas.

Starting in 1957, Gene worked for the California Dept. of Water Resources in Sacramento until 1966, when he was transferred to the Northern District in Red Bluff.  Here he worked on various projects and programs, notably the Davis-Grunsky program, which provided loans to small water districts to construct water systems. He retired from the DWR in 1988.

Curiosity about the lumber flumes that came down from the mountains led Gene to discover a second career in researching and writing articles about the history of Tehama County. He became an active member of the Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society and served as editor of the Tehama County Memories for several years. Gene also helped write Tehama County, 1856-2006; Tales from Ishi Country; and Mineral-Mill Creek Place Names. He served as Regional VP, Conference of California Historical Societies.

A member of the Red Bluff Presbyterian Church, he is also involved in Kiwanis, Sons in Retirement, Nature Conservancy and several historical organizations.

Gene usually has several history projects going at the same time. He said, I enjoy the research and try to fit the puzzle together . You’re always missing pieces, but you do the best you can to fit the pieces together.

One of his current projects is Mary Ellen Place and Trail, about 20 miles west of Red Bluff.  It is a remote area that will require some serious hiking to reach. He is considering the use of an ATV to get there, assuming he can get permission from the property owner.

Gene intends to keep working his history puzzles as long as he can.


Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

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