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In Memoriam: Milton “Gene” Stephenson

In Memoriam: Milton “Gene” Stephenson

September 15,1932 – August 3, 2013

by Guild Staff

Originally published in American Lutherie #115, 2013

Gene Stephenson passed away recently at his home in Woodburn, Oregon. Gene was born in Rock Falls, Illinois. When he was three, his family moved to Oregon and homesteaded near Molalla, logging and raising goats.

After graduating from Molalla High School in 1951, Gene enlisted in the Navy and served honorably for twenty years, including in Korea and Vietnam. He managed an electronics store for a while before becoming a machinist. He worked at a diving-board company, a ladder company, and a plastics machine shop before retiring to enjoy his personal interests.

Gene started making guitars in a hobby shop with a Navy buddy in Hawaii in the mid-1950s. His buddy shipped out and left the remaining wood and materials to Gene. After his stint in the Navy ended, he left instrument making until he returned to Oregon in 1978. Gene was a member of the Guild for twenty-seven years. He completed thirteen guitars, and left two more that are almost complete, needing fingerboards and finish. He also made about twenty-five mandolins, and completed three violins. He was working on a batch of violins when he passed. Being a machinist, he also enjoyed making jigs and tools for his workshop.

Photo by Amanda Newsom

When he wasn’t making instruments in his garage, Gene was active with the Old Time Fiddlers, the American Legion, and the Christ Baptist Church. He is survived by his wife Jackie of fifty-two years, two daughters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Gene and Jackie attended at least five GAL Conventions in Tacoma, and were perennial participants in the Northwest Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit held annually in Portland, Oregon. Gene’s cheerful demeanor and generous nature will be missed by his many friends in the lutherie community.