ALBANY -- Sitting with Gene Hellwig in his living room, you'd never guess that it's his 90th birthday. He looks like he's in his 70s at most, active, energetic and healthy.

And how many 90-year-olds do you know who still ride a Kawasaki 600 motorcycle?

Hellwig has spent most of those 90 years as an Albany resident. He was born at 1235 Marin Ave., in a house across the street from the old Albany Hospital.

He and his wife, Donna, also a lifelong Albany resident, have lived in their house on Brighton Avenue since 1957.

He had a paper route in town as a kid, delivering the Oakland Tribune to houses from San Pablo Avenue to Talbot and Marin to Dartmouth.

He went to Cornell Elementary School and graduated from Albany High School.

Eugene Hellwig, 90, is a World War II veteran who has lived in Albany all his life.
Eugene Hellwig, 90, is a World War II veteran who has lived in Albany all his life.

In fact, you can add up the time Hellwig hasn't lived in Albany pretty quickly -- his time in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War, a short period when he lived on the Peninsula while attending College of San Mateo and a few summers he spent with his father when Charles Hellwig was the assistant lighthouse keeper at Point Conception.

Things have changed a bit in town over that time.

"The house on the corner just sold for $1.2 million," Hellwig said. "We paid $17,950 for this house."

Hellwig adds that both houses are MacGregors, built by legendary Albany homebuilder Charles M. MacGregor.

His house on Brighton was built in 1938 -- when Hellwig was a teenager.


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Hellwig is full of stories from his years in town. He tells of throwing tomatoes with his friends as a kid. How he enlisted in the Navy on the advice of his father rather than the Army or the Marines. How his mother had to go pick up his high school diploma in June, 1943, after he enlisted and missed his graduation. Where some of the streets came to an end, before they were extended. How the land where Albany Middle School now sits was once a lumber yard.

But you have to start with the motorcycle.

Hellwig, who had owned a couple of motorcycles when he was younger, was in Oregon visiting friends a few years ago when he noticed the Kawasaki leaning against the barn.

"I looked at it and said, 'Hey. Pretty good bike,'" Hellwig recalled. His friend told him he wanted to sell it.

"What are you asking for it," Hellwig asked. The price was $3,500 and the bike had just 6,000 miles on it.

"I told him, 'I tell you what. You bring it down to Albany and you've sold it," Hellwig said.

How often does Hellwig ride it?

"Whenever I get a chance," he said. "I haven't ridden for two or three weeks. Quite often, I'll ride up to Benicia. My motor home is up in Benicia. I'll park the bike in the garage up there and bring the motor home down."

Hellwig used to race cars at tracks in Oakland and San Jose. He would have them souped up and although he never made a whole lot of money, he had plenty of fun. One time, he was driving his racing roadster ("It wasn't street-legal.") home from the track.

"A cop came up alongside me, and said, 'How'd ya do,'" Hellwig said. "I said, 'I made wages.' He said, 'Good. Take it easy on the way home.'"

The Hellwigs have four children, 13 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren with another on the way. Oldest son Brian lives in Ohio, but the other three children are nearby -- Keith lives in Oakley, Leigh Anne in Richmond and Marsha lives with her parents. Gene and Donna will celebrate their 66th anniversary on Aug. 1.

After his time in the service, Hellwig dropped out of college to take a job with the phone company. He retired at age 61. He also spent more than 20 years as a reserve officer with the Albany Police Department.

Leigh Anne said she and her siblings got a side benefit from their father's volunteering with the department -- he would bring confiscated firecrackers home to them.

The only real health scare Gene Hellwig ever had was a brain aneurysm suffered around age 60. He said he did have a close call when he was in the Navy and a bomb from a Japanese airplane exploded in the water next to his ship sending a piece of metal whistling right by his ear.

He jokes that he'll just keep going and you believe him when he says it.