The green house on the dead end of Gordon Street had been vacant for five years. When Gene Lewis moved in, most of his brother’s possessions remained untouched. Today, the number in the phone book is still listed under his brother’s name. His brother's clothes still hang in the bedroom closet–thirteen years after his death.
Gene’s brother, Sidney, served as a colonel in the Air Force and died unexpectedly of unknown causes on Sept. 30, 1997. After the funeral, Lewis traveled to Duluth and back several times from his hometown in Denver to take care of his brother's house. After several trips, he committed to moving to Duluth, as he was already paying property taxes. He didn’t want to sell the house.
“If anyone would have told me I would have lived in Minnesota, I would have cussed them out,” Lewis said. “I never expected to be living here.”
A decade later, Lewis, 73, leaves the property only if he needs something from the local store or has to pay a bill. He doesn't socialize with many people in town.
“I don’t even know a dog around here,” Lewis said. “I don’t have no company and I don’t go out. I keep to myself. I don’t bother my neighbor and they don’t bother me.”
His neighbor, Ellen Waldhoff, simply said, “We don't know Gene well at all.”
Raised Baptist, Lewis attended a church off of Arrowhead road when he first moved to the Duluth, but stopped after attending only a few services.
“I was always the only black spot in that whole congregation,” Lewis said. “They were all nice, but I got paranoid.”
“The blacks here, well, they are anything but black,” he said. “I have found the whites to be more friendly towards me. At first it bothered me, but now I just laugh. I don’t have to sleep with them, so I don’t give a damn.”
Currently unemployed, Lewis spends the majority of his time in the seclusion of his brother's home doing work on the yard.
“I don’t volunteer,” he said. “I don’t do work for damn nothing. The only thing I would volunteer for is to make love. I’ll do that for free.”
The grass outside the Lewis house is a dead tan color – one many Minnesotans would recognize as being caused by a complete snow burial during the winter months. Now the middle of March, his brother's yard is already cleared of all remnants of the Northland winter. The grass is thoroughly raked, and, short of the wood pile at the end of the yard, and not a branch can be seen.
“I’m not gonna hire anyone to do work that I can do myself,” Lewis said.
Lewis is never caught working outside without his radio on, always playing rhythm and blues or jazz.
“My neighbor once told me I was too loud,” said Lewis. “I told him that I may be a little noisy, but I just wanted him to know that I’m still alive.”