2016-12-01 / Spotlight

Santa’s Helper

Gene Weller, Toys for Tots Coordinator
Maggie Anderson

Gene WellerGene WellerThis year will mark the 30th Toys for Tots campaign in Centre County, an enormous effort to gather thousands of donated toys for children in need that has been successful for three decades in large part due to insurance agent and retired U.S. Marine Maj. Gene Weller. Since the beginning, he worked to make the Toys for Tots program in this area a countywide effort, one that now involves nearly 1,000 volunteers helping to wrap more than 10,000 toys picked up from 250 collection sites. That’s a lot of toys, but Weller has found the program stretches beyond Christmas morning.

“There are a lot of people who are too proud to seek out food and fuel assistance, but they’re less likely to go without toys during the holidays,” he says. “The synergy then with the food pantries, being able to identify families that they need to be supporting throughout the year, is what really has made this whole thing work.” Before the wrapping efforts begin, we caught up with Weller to see what, beyond his wife Donna and daughters Melissa and Brandy, keeps him in the giving spirit.

1. Carry A Tune
“I’ve sung in choir since I was in second grade. My wife still directs the church choir, and we sing with the Centre Heritage Singers. Singing has been a part of my life for all of my life.” And what does he like best about singing? “The camaraderie and being able to help provide a little inspiration for people.”

2. To The Corps
In addition to the Toys for Tots effort, Weller and his wife are involved in other community events through the Marine Corps League. “For over 25 years, my wife and I have been involved in Special Olympics. We have helped to officiate the field events virtually every year for the last 25 years.”

3. Pedal Pusher
“When I was on active duty, I was able to take my bicycle on a Mediterranean cruise and rode it through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt; Mallorca; Barcelona.” For the past five years, Weller participated in a bike ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis research after his daughter developed the disease. “She, her twin sister, myself, 18 others all together have raised about $65,000 riding our bikes 50 miles on a Saturday and 50 miles back on a Sunday.”

4. Book It
“In my downtime I enjoy reading, mostly military history and military fiction, especially World War II and the Civil War.” Weller says he reads many different authors but particularly likes Clive Cussler, W. E. B. Griffin and Tom Clancy.

5. Ship Shape
“We like to travel when we can. We’ve been on six or seven cruises. Well, in the military I had a couple more,” he jokes. “I like to say I’ve been on two-day to six-month cruises. The ones we most enjoy are the seven-day ones.” The Wellers have been to Bermuda, the Bahamas and all around the Caribbean, and they’d like to take their daughters and their families on a cruise all together soon.

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