For the Reporter
Former City Councilman Gene Cerino passed away early Friday morning, city officials said. He was 91.
Cerino served three terms on the Auburn City Council, beginning in 1995, and was known to be thoughtful in his approach and willing to take on difficult issues in his role on the council.
“It’s been a fabulous journey, and I have enjoyed every minute of the 12 years I have been on the council,” Cerino said in 2009 when leaving office. “I love the work. I want everybody to understand something about City Council people – they are not politicians, they are civil servants, and they work to serve the city they are elected from. The pay is not great so don’t think about running for council if you need the money, because you’ll be in trouble.”
When Cerino left the council, then-Mayor Pete Lewis declared Dec. 21, 2009 “Gene Cerino Day” in Auburn and then-Gov. Chris Gregoire declared “Gene Cerino Day in the state of Washington.”
“I had the honor of serving on the Auburn City Council with Gene, but I never was able to call him Gene – I called him Mr. Cerino because he had been my drivers education teacher at Auburn High School back in the late ’70s,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. “I could go on and on with stories about the man who was my friend, mentor and fellow Councilmember. Instead, I will simply say, ‘Rest well, Mr. Cerino, I love you and will miss you.’”
He was a proud World War II veteran and would often muse about the fact that he lived in Alaska for nine years when it was still a territory where he worked construction and had a commercial fishing boat.
After leaving Alaska, Cerino earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in 1954 and spent 27 years as a teacher. He retired from Auburn High in 1982 and said that among the many students that he taught to drive, his most prized student was Gregoire. After retiring from teaching and coaching, he became a sub-contractor in the waterproofing field, and after 10 successful years, he retired in 1992 at the age of 65.
He was Auburn High School’s first wrestling coach in 1959 and remained in the position for 20 years. He was inducted in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012. His induction statement reads: “… Cerino is considered by many as one of the ‘Washington Forefathers of Wrestling.’ (He) is credited for creating two high school programs, laying the foundation for the current format of the WIAA state wrestling tournament, and building international relations with wrestlers from across the world.”
During his coaching career Cerino helped lead his wrestling teams to five league championships, four regional titles and five top-four finishes. He coached 17 state individual place-winners and five state champions.
Cerino was a frequent participant at the Auburn Senior Activity Center, and true to his ways, made a lasting impact. He was one of the founding members of the Senior Wellness Team in the early ’90s and was instrumental in starting the fitness program for seniors. He could also be seen making pancakes for more than 300 guests at the annual Senior Center Santa Claus Breakfast and eventually earned the nickname “batter boy.” He was named volunteer emeritus in 2012.
“When Gene decided to get involved in local politics he focused on the needs of older adults in the community,” said Radine Lozier, senior center supervisor and friend. “He was an avid supporter of the senior center. He loved a good cigar and a glass of red wine. He loved family and friends and most of all he loved Auburn.”
The family has yet to announce service details.