From bikes to planes, North Huntingdon man 'never stopped'
Gene Minerva never stopped.
“Not even two weeks ago, he wound up in the hospital with appendicitis,” said his son Jim Minerva of Jeannette. “We were going to go pheasant hunting, and I was down at my buddy’s farm when I got a call from my dad, who hadn’t been out of the hospital for a day yet. ‘Are we going pheasant hunting?’ he asked.”
Gene E. Minerva of North Huntingdon died Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, of a heart attack. He was 80.
Mr. Minerva was born Oct. 10, 1938, in McKeesport, a son of the late James and Velma (Dakin) Minerva. He grew up in North Huntingdon.
Mr. Minerva got involved in motocross racing during its early days.
“He did a lot of that in the 1960s and after serving four years in Vietnam. He got right back into it when he came back,” Jim said.
By the early ’90s, Mr. Minerva still hadn’t slowed down, bringing home a first-place finish in 1991 and a Senior Veterans Eastern National Championship in 1992 from the High Point Raceway in Mt. Morris.
“He was very good on a bike,” said his wife Joanne Raynak.
The couple took multiple trips to the west, to places like the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota and Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.
Mr. Minerva met Joanne a half-century ago in Connecticut, where he worked as a trucker for the former Pacific Intermountain Express, or P-I-E, trucking firm.
“We kept in touch over the years,” Joanne said. “Vietnam took him away, but eventually we got back together, and we’ve been together the past 20 years or so.”
Mr. Minerva’s time in Vietnam — where he served as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne — gave him a lifelong love of flight, even going so far as to travel cross-country with Joanne to build his own airplane.
“There was a program at Arlington Municipal Airport where you could build your own Glasair plane,” Joanne said. “We built it in March 2013. It took about three weeks, and he stayed there for another couple weeks, then he flew it home.”
The Minervas kept their plane at Rostraver Airport.
“He flew as much as he possibly could,” she said.
Making time for flying, however, took away from all Mr. Minerva’s other pursuits.
“Every single day he had to work,” Jim said. “He owned a bunch of acres, and he always had a project going.”
“He had every piece of equipment you could think of,” she said. “He always worked in construction, even when he was trucking, and did more of that after he retired.”
Mr. Minerva was a member of the Italian Brotherhood of the Guffey Club, serving as its president for 30 years, and belonged to the Frederick Franklin Masonic Lodge 14, Youngwood Sportsman’s Club and Fairmont Hahntown VFD.
Jim said a few of the words from a toast he gave at Mr. Minerva’s surprise 80th birthday describe his father perfectly.
“It was a toast ‘to the truck driver, provider, motorcycle rider, to the Vietnam warrior, to just the soldier, to the rebel and the daredevil, to the pilot, to Gene, to Geno, to the grandfather, to the great-grandfather, and the coolest dude I know, my father,’” he said.
Mr. Minerva is survived by his wife, Joanne Raynak; sons, Jim Minerva and Tim Minerva; stepsons David Raynak and Jonathan Raynak; brother, Glenn Minerva; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 1 to 3 and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the James W. Shirley Funeral Home, 176 Clay Pike, North Huntingdon, where an 11 a.m. funeral service will be held Friday. Interment will follow at Grandview Cemetery.
Memorial donations can be made to the Shriners Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or the Wounded Warriors Project.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, email@example.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.