Tribune Print Share Text

Interesting past, even better present

Essay contest winner tells stories of his own

Created date

February 21st, 2014
couple sitting

Gene Corrigan may have an interesting ancestor (a pillaging pirate, to be exact). He may have clinched first place in the most recent Tribune short-essay contest, winning him a National Geographic DNA Ancestry Kit. He may have even dabbled in researching his genealogy.

But Gene Corrigan isn’t as interested in unearthing the stories of his past as he is in creating and telling stories of his own. 

“Periodically I’ve gotten interested in genealogy. I’m a little hot and cold about it,” Gene says. “I find it not too rewarding to find Black Jack (a “heartless, rapacious pirate” from the 1700s) was my ancestor. Just having a name with no story isn’t rewarding for me.”

Instead, Gene preaches to his family and friends, “Don’t put your descendants in the same position. Write about who you are. I work on my memoirs with the idea that we tell our descendants who we are,” he says.

Gene Corrigan’s winning essay describing Black Jack Cobern summarizes the most interesting find of his and a cousin’s genealogical research. You can read his winning essay at

“I have a cousin on my father’s side who has traveled to Ireland and Germany conducting research,” Gene says. “Problem was, the Irish who came over here were peasants; they were mostly illiterate,” he says. 

The Irish ancestors were presumably unable to write their life stories. The only remaining records—church records—simply commemorate birth, marriage, and death, and “that’s it,” Gene says.

However, research in Germany unearthed meticulous records. “I thought any records in Germany would have been destroyed by bombing (during World War II). It’s the reverse of what I expected!” he says.

With one famous pirate in his family history, Gene concentrates his time and effort on current events and sharing information with his neighbors at Wind Crest, the Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., where he lives with his wife Billie in a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath, Hastings-style apartment home.

Living in the moment

Gene and Billie moved to Crest December 30, 2011, from Denver, where they had lived in an apartment for nine years. With its myriad amenities and activities, along with hundreds of peers as their neighbors, Gene and Billie have been living in the moment taking advantage of what life has to offer. 

Gene, a former attorney who formed the first interracial law firm (Stradford, Lafontant, Fisher, and Corrigan) in Chicago in 1965, spends much of his time reading. In fact, he says, “We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful library here. I find I can’t read books fast enough.”

But he doesn’t keep information to himself. “I like to give the benefit of what I read to others,” he says. He participates in a campus lecture group called Current Issues, in which members take turns presenting on topics from climatology to candidates for Congress. They even host political candidates from time to time.

“We do that sort of thing to keep people interested here,” he says. The lectures attract around 100 people, he says.

He and Billie also belong to the Democratic Precinct at Wind Crest, with Gene as president. Though Wind Crest has a Republican majority, Gene and Billie often meet with people interested in moving to the community who may be concerned about being in a Democratic minority.

“We have relieved them of that concern. It’s not an issue that affects life here at Wind Crest,” he says.

Aside from speaking engagements, Gene shares information by writing too. He writes biographies of his neighbors for the Wind Crest Gazette’s “Know Your Neighbors” section and is managing editor of the “Writings” section.

But it’s not all business for Billie and Gene. They participated in a Christmas skit in December, and Gene swims laps three days a week in the community’s indoor swimming pool. “When I go down there at 4 a.m., it’s my own private pool,” he says. 

Peace of mind

In addition to all their community involvement, Gene and Billie moved to Wind Crest largely because of its continuing care neighborhood, which opened in October.

“We wanted to know that, should something happen to one of us, care is available if we need it,” Gene says.

The continuing care neighborhood offers skilled nursing and rehabilitation (including short-term rehab), assisted living, and memory care. Distinctly designed for a person-centered approach, Mill Vista Lodge promotes the idea of residents at the center of care.