Ernest Eugene “Gene” Yeager, a major donor of California Baptist University and icon in the construction industry, passed away on Sunday Sept. 5, 2010 in Palm Desert after a courageous battle with cancer.
“Gene was a beloved family member, committed Christian, generous, can-do person, optimist and joy-filled spirit,” CBU President Ronald Ellis said.
A private campus memorial was held in the Stamps Courtyard on Sept. 9, at 2 p.m. Ellis welcomed members of Yeager’s family, business associates, civic leaders, elected officials and friends who came to honor the late philanthropist.
Ellis spoke of fond memories of Billie and Eugene Yeager when he became President of California Baptist College in 1994.
“Gene and Billie welcomed me, my wife Jane and my two young sons to Riverside with open arms,” Ellis said. “They supported the vision to build a university committed to the Great Commission at CBC. Billie was a graduate of CBC. She loved the institution and through Gene’s love of Billie, he came to love CBC as well.”
Yeager provided the parking lot in front of the Van Dyne Gym and helped purchase 15.5 acres adjacent to the CBU campus.
“The importance of that land purchase to the growth of CBU is hard to overstate,” Ellis said. “Without a doubt it changed the trajectory of the institution, which lead to university status and tremendous growth that continues today. The Yeager Center became one of Gene’s favorite places on earth. This memorial service being held today is a testimony to his love to the Yeager Center. Whenever he and Billie came on campus, he beamed with pride.”
Ellis talked about how the legacy of Yeager runs deep to younger generations who attend and become alumni. The Yeager Center and the Great Commission are at the very core of campus, the CBU experience and the legacy.
When new students enter the Yeager Center and touch the Kugel, it signifies their official entry into the CBU family. Ellis said that the Yeager Center is CBU’s signature location.
“Gene we miss you, but your legacy lives on at CBU and for numerous recipients of your kindness and generosity,”
Ellis said. “May you be at rest.”
A musical intermission continued the ceremony by Jane Ellis, first lady of the University, who beautifully sang the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.” Following the hymn, several of Gene’s closest friends and business associates spoke about their beloved friend.
“I admired him, loved him and God rest him,” Jacques Yeager, Yeager’s brother and business partner, said. “I am going to miss him.”
Pat Welch, a friend of the Yeagers, talked about the charities Eugene and Billie were involved in and their significant impact in Arrowhead Arts, which is a streaming program in schools that are able to send hundreds of kids to summer music camps.
“It wasn’t the amount of charity that Gene gave, it is how he gave it,” Erik Taylor, a friend, said. “He did it privately, modestly and with class.”
“I’ve known Gene for about 19 years,” Rob Roy, a friend of Yeager, said. “He was a remarkable man. He was not only generous with his wealth, but with his time.”
After the speeches of Yeager’s closest friends, Jane Ellis and six CBU students sang “It is Well with My Soul.” Then with the assistance of Pastor Jeff Evans, members of the Yeager family talked about their fond memories of him, the greatness of his character and his influence on their lives.
“Gene was gracious, he was a class act,” Evans said. “Gene loved his wife and family very much.”
Tom Yeager, the eldest son, spoke of the important values and lessons his father gave him.
“When I went to work for him many years ago, he offered me this advice. ‘Remember Tom, do your best and you always must do what you say you are going to do,'” Tom Yeager said. “I take these words, doing your best and doing what you say you are going to do is Gene’s legacy as a leader.”
Yeager not only impacted CBU, he had a positive influ- ence on local cities too. His company built freeways, bridges and dams across Southern Calif. These freeways include the Highway 91, Interstate 15 interchange in Corona and freeway construction through the Cajon Pass.
“Whenever you are driving on the Cajon Pass or driving up the mountains in Big Bear, look up in the night sky and look for one of the brightest stars and take a minute to remember Gene Yeager, our father, contractor, leader and friend,” Tom Yeager said.
After all the heartfelt speeches, a video tribute on Yeager’s life was presented showing his wife, Billie, his family and all of his travels. Following the video, Ellis gave the final benediction guests proceeded to the Copenbarger Presidential Dining room for a reception.