Gene Jennings: The man in the kitchen

Gene Jennings serves up tasty meals for Prairie City Senior Citizens, who meet each Wednesday at the Strawberry Grange Hall. He and his wife, Edna, have been cooking at the senior center for about three years, but providing good food to local residents is nothing new to them. due to their restaurant experience.

Grant County People

PRAIRIE CITY - In the restaurant business, Gene Jennings received rave reviews for his cooking, and now senior citizens at Prairie City can partake of his fixings.

Gene, along with wife, Edna, serve up tasty meals for Prairie City Senior Citizens, who meet each Wednesday at the Strawberry Grange Hall. The couple has been cooking at the senior center for about three years, but providing good food to local residents is nothing new to them.

Gene and Edna Jennings arrived in Grant County in 1989, after visiting Gene's son, who worked on a ranch near Dayville. They ended up picking up a one-year lease from Dick Smith and operated the Dayville Diggins, the former Shell Station. The following season, they traveled to Prairie City and felt the pull of the S Bar S Diner, which was closed. Before long, they owned the business and renamed it "The Little Diner."

For a decade, residents of Prairie City and the surrounding area came to depend on Gene for a satisfying meal. He figures during his 10-year tenure, he served up over 30 tons of beef ribs and 10,000 chicken fried steaks. His Saturday night prime rib was so popular that many local residents begged for the recipe, and no doubt still use it. Chuck Cason purchased the Little Diner in 2000, establishing a reputation for himself, especially with his superb carrot cake.

Jennings continues to enjoy a strong following. At the Prairie City Senior Center, he serves many of his former customers. Some are new faces, but they enjoy the same good home-cooking.

Gene was raised around Coos Bay and began working in 1944 as a bell hop at a motel. In 1946, he worked at various restaurants in San Diego, Calif. He returned to the Coos Bay area and tried his hand at logging and mill work. In 1953, he arrived in Mt. Vernon where he worked on the dial-telephone line installation. He also sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners to more than 800 Eastern Oregon residents.

In the 1960s, he cooked at restaurants at Estacada and Eugene, including the Brewster American Legion where elegant banquets were served, and the Moose Lodge lounge/restaurant at Meier & Frank. He also formed a country music band, which played at various night clubs.

Gene leased the HiHo Club at Independence in 1970 and operated the club and restaurant for nine years. His band provided live music seven nights a week.

In 1979, Gene and Edna were married at Omak, Wash., where they operated a "Little Diner" for a couple of years. He then cooked at Round Table in Pateros, Wash., for nine years before arriving in Grant County.

Gene and Edna know how to please the local crowd, and anyone who disputes that fact is invited to the Prairie City Senior Center, 204 McHaley St., Prairie City, noon on Wednesdays.

There was a special memorial service held recently at Prairie City Cemetery. It was special because it was a joint service for longtime Grant County resident Myrtle Kimberling who died in June 2003 and her grandson, Kevin Schuyler, who died September 2002 at age 51.

Although Kevin was known to be content with his life's accomplishments, at one time he told his mother, Nelda Kimberling Schuyler, that an unfulfilled dream was to take a trip on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Kevin's wish came true on Aug. 25 when members of John Day's Heaven's Saints motorcycle group delivered Kevin's ashes in a Harley gas tank from John Day to Prairie City Cemetery for the graveside service.

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear"- Mark Twain in "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar."

If you have interesting tid-bits about Grant County people, contact Heather at 575-0710 or e-mail heather@bluemountaineagle.com.

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