He was the flesh-and-blood embodiment of Auburn’s blue collar community, as trusted, respected and revered as a man could possibly be in a community that knows just who he is.
A sturdy oak who continued to substitute teach at Auburn’s four high schools well into his 80s, long after his official retirement from Auburn High School in 1992. The man who taught former Gov. Christine Gregoire how to drive.
Indeed, it seemed for years that age dared not touch or hobble Gene Cerino, who always found time for the people in his community and to meet the band of “early bird” regulars for workouts at the Auburn YMCA.
But Friday morning, July 13, at age 91, time finally caught up with Gene Cerino, coach, teacher, friend and former City Councilman.
Dennis “Kip” Herren, who succeeded Cerino as AHS wrestling coach and went on to serve as Auburn School District Superintendent, had the following to say about his friend in a 2007 interview with the Auburn Reporter:
“Gene was a self-made man at wrestling. When he put his mind to it, he would excel … and that is true with what he has done in his civic, business and other duties. He was able to learn on the job and become exceptional at whatever he was doing,” Herren said.
Born in Montana in 1927, Cerino was a U.S. Army paratrooper in World War II and a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944.
Before establishing a home and family in Auburn, Cerino lived in Alaska for nine years, picking up construction work and running a fishing boat.
In 1954, Cerino came to Washington to complete his teaching degree at Washington State University.
When he arrived in Auburn in 1959 to establish a wrestling program at Auburn High, he proved a quick, effective study at a sport he knew little-to-nothing about at the start. Indeed, he would go on to found one of the top wrestling programs in the state and coach many state champions in a 20-year span. In the early 2000s, he was inducted into the state and national wrestling halls of fame.
After his retirement from teaching and coaching, Cerino became a sub-contractor in the water-proofing field. After 10 successful years at that, he again retired in 1992 at 65, although, as he himself insisted, he never actually retired, he only chose to go from one job to another.
Then he took an interest in local government. He was first elected to the Auburn City Council in 1995, and after losing his seat in 1999, was reelected in 2001. Cerino served three terms on the Auburn City Council, where he gained a reputation for being thoughtful in his approach and willing to take on difficult issues in his role on the council.
“Auburn is a blue-collar town,” Cerino liked to say, “and I am a blue-collar person.”