Smyrna’s legendary athlete and merchant Gene Handsberry dies

Gene Handsberry owned Smyrna Sporting Goods for 50 years and worked there for several years after selling the business. Delaware State News/file photo

SMYRNA — A local legend passed away last Thursday, never to be forgotten.

Gene Handsberry was a loving family man, Korean War veteran, baseball star, bank president and Smyrna Sporting Goods owner for 50 years.

He died at age 90 surrounded by family and left the world with the community’s great respect.

Brian Brown bought the downtown sporting goods business in 2003. Mr. Handsberry continued to work there six days a week after selling the store. He didn’t need to stay, but he just wanted to.

“Everyone liked Gene,” Mr. Brown said. “He was the type who listened to everyone’s stories, especially hunting ones, when many people would have walked away.

“He was very interested in everyone’s well-being. His whole life revolved around his family first and the store.”

A 2010 Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, the hard-hitting second baseman was on the cusp of joining the big league Philadelphia A’s when he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served two years in Korea.

“He just missed playing ball in Philly by a fraction,” Mr. Brown said. “If fate didn’t take him to Korea I’m sure we’d all have been reading a lot about his baseball career.”

Earlier, the Class of 1947 Smyrna High graduate played baseball and earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

He was born in Leipsic and lived nearly all his life in Smyrna.

Smyrna Sporting Goods debuted in 1954 on the corner of Main and Commerce streets by selling baseball equipment, horseshoes and more. Gradually the business transitioned into primarily offering firearms and hunting merchandise.

“Gene was what I would call a true merchant,” Mr. Brown said. “There were others who worked for him, of course, but he was involved in practically everything that went on.

“He didn’t join many organizations and groups because he saw so much of the public at the store. He didn’t have one close friend because he knew everyone.”

Mr. Handsberry loved hunting and trapping, which was his time to unwind on the marsh or in the duck blind.

During a 30-year tenure as Farmer’s Bank president, Mr. Handsberry “was the loan man who everyone came to. He helped a lot of people out.”

Mr. Handsberry and his wife Carole were married 53 years and raised three daughters. He coached softball in the Smyrna Little Lass League and the family took annual vacations to Rehoboth Beach.

Remembrances aplenty

Dozens of heartfelt comments were quickly posted on the Sporting Goods Facebook page after Mr. Handsberry’s passing including, among others:

• “So very sorry to hear of Mr. Handsberry’s passing. I have many great memories of chatting with him about baseball at the sporting goods store years ago. I had great admiration for him. God rest his soul.”

• “Many years ago Gene helped me financially when he worked at the bank. I will be forever grateful rest in peace my friend.”

• “My mom cleaned their house and took care of the 3 girls, back in the day in Smyrna I think everyone knew everyone and it was 1 big family, your father will be missed by so many! He was a blessed man and loved by many, if your family needs anything please let me know.”

• “Gene has alway been a friend to everyone we have lost a great part of Smyrna he will be greatly missed.”

• “He was one of the greatest around. Got my first shot gun for him . will never forget.. he always waved or spoke when seeing him out and about just the same as he was in the store.. loved stopping just to here the stories he had.”

Services will be held Saturday at Faries Funeral Home at 29 S. Main Street in Smyrna.

Visitation is from noon to 1:30 p.m. A service follows at 1:30 p.m. with a reception at a location to be announced.

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