Mission High School

Gene attended Mission High School from 1944 to 1947.  He was very involved in school as class president his first year at Mission (photographed with Al Cernick aka Guy Mitchell).  He was class banker his senior year.  In between holding office and doing schoolwork, Gene was active in photography on and off campus.  The school had hundreds of students and Gene didn’t have a particular crowd he hung out with at school, but he was known by all.  He was an above average student, a “swell guy”, a “popoff”, “loads of fun”, and a “perfect nuisance” (written in his yearbooks by his peers).

Sometime in 1944 Gene began classes at St. James Catholic Church for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  At that time he had a close relationship with Father Quinn.  Father Quinn counseled Gene in the act of suffering and bearing the cross of pain and despair.  For many years prior, Gene had conceded to his fate, a life of dwindling fingers, constant scarring, and incessant questioning.  Gene also learned that his condition sometimes afforded him special treatment.  When he turned fifteen, at the time when he stood before the altar of God and confirmed his faith, he also made a truce with God.  He vowed that whatever the future held for him and his diminishing body that he would go forth and live a normal and productive life, no matter what.  He promised never to complain about his sun produced wounds and never curse the One who handed him his cross to bear.  
My father was a temperamental man, often times giving into his despair and taking his frustrations out on his family, but he never complained about the sores that gnawed at his flesh, and he never mentioned his pain.  He would, however, without end call upon God to curse a reluctant roll of film or stubborn fence post, but he never cursed God Himself.  Although Gene’s porphyria was certainly noticeable in his teens, it was much easier for him to face at that time than later in his life.  Many of the ’47 alumni that I interviewed told me that they thought the deformation in Gene’s facial features and fingers were the result of being badly sunburned (they were all aware that he was extremely “sensitive” to the sun).  Usually Gene would just let people come to their own conclusions, however, one classmate remembers Gene standing in front of the classroom and briefly explaining his condition to his fellow students.  According to the classmate, Gene finished his expository with, “So, there you have it.”  
Gene’s yearbooks are filled with wonderful notes from his peers.  Some students signed his book each year.  A few girls inked flirtatious notes.  Without a doubt, Gene was well liked and despite his outward appearance, he was just one of the guys, and was treated as such. If you attended Mission High School between the years 1944 and 1947, please feel free to share any general or specific memories of Gene Bennett.  What you share may or may not be used in the biography, but your input is greatly appreciated. Notice Gene’s left ear.  By the time he was twelve more than 50% of his ear was lost.  Doctors “resected” his ear, cutting away the dead tissue and attempting to stitch together what was left.  In Gene’s senior portrait, the photography studio simply painted an ear on the side of his head.