Gene Burwell died peacefully on November 24, 2020 at Lake Ozark Regional Hospital surrounded by his wife Karen and family. He was 85.
Gene married Karen Benters on September 27, 1966. They welcomed Gene’s daughters Tami and Toni and later expanded their family with Eric and Curt. In Karen, he met his soul mate and lifelong partner. Theirs was a marriage built on mutual respect and support, and it served as an inspiration for everyone fortunate enough to witness the 54-year partnership. They have attended Zion Lutheran Church since they made Lincoln their home.
Gene was born in Beason, Illinois and was the oldest child of Kenneth and Iona Burwell. He graduated from Beason High School in 1953 and remained close with his schoolmates throughout his life. After service in the United States Army, he started his career as a carpenter and tradesman in Beason and Lincoln. Rainy days freed him to a second job as a gasoline station attendant at a two-bay service station in Lincoln. When the owner retired, he was able to buy the station with a modest loan from his Uncle and Aunt, Jim and Irma Turpin, and he cultivated a loyal customer base in Lincoln and Logan County. In 1958, he incorporated Burwell Oil Service and began serving farm and commercial customers and continued running the service station. He combined this business with his “passion” business, the boat business, and he operated a boat store on Keokuk Street until he decided to focus solely on the gasoline business in 1981. Over the next 30 years, Gene went on to build the business into 21 GB Oil convenience stores, a truck stop, the Lincoln Steak ‘n Shake, and numerous other ancillary businesses before its sale in 2002. He was also active in real estate development, and he was especially proud of efforts to develop Lincoln’s West Side with numerous retail businesses, hotels, Sysco Food Systems and Fed Ex. He was a proud, occasionally cantankerous, distributor for Phillips Petroleum for over 40 years, a partnership that helped his business but also introduced him to dozens of friends and took him and Karen on many memorable trips. Gene took a special pride in supporting community organizations in Lincoln and Logan County during his years in business. He proudly served on the Board of Directors for State Bank of Lincoln 1987-1996 and on the Board of the Illinois Petroleum Markets Association 1996-2002.
Gene’s other passion was anything involving an internal combustion engine. He enjoyed cars, boats, airplanes and any other thing that was built for speed. He collected various cars and boats over the years, and many of his happiest moments were spent with friends and family attending NASCAR races, boat races, and auto shows. He and Karen built their dream house in Four Seasons, Missouri in 1997. His passion and skill for design was evident in all the details, especially a descending, step-less walkway to the water. He joked he only needed an architect “to stamp the papers for the permit.” He was correct. He designed the house to carry him comfortably into his advanced age surrounded by his family and friends. On that, as with nearly every other thing he touched, he found great success. Over the past 23 years there, he and Karen enjoyed the company of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends. Thousands of fish were caught and released, thousands of gallons of gas were burned in boats and Sea-Doos and countless memories created of splashing water and laughing children.
He is survived by his wife Karen. Daughters Tami (Brian) Klink of Wales, WI; Toni Burwell (Greg Purviance) of East Peoria, IL ; Sons Eric (Karin) Burwell of Bloomington, IL and Curt (Christine) Burwell of New York, NY, fourteen grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews with whom he shared many holidays and memorable events through the years. He was predeceased by his parents, Iona and Kenneth, his sister Elaine Butler, and his nephew Kevin Lessen.
He could tell a story like no other, and tell them he did. A tip of the cowboy hat, a paused delivery and sometimes a little liberty with the facts, he would usually leave his listeners in uproarious laughter. He loved to read and to share what he read with his friends. He collected thousands of friends over his 85 years, and he leaves all of them with many fond memories. Those memories will need to replace his annual birthday phone calls from now on.
Gene never met a stranger, and he never found himself at a loss for words in a conversation. He was a focused listener with an amazing memory. He was an extrovert extraordinaire: charming, witty, and congenial. Those that know him best knew all these qualities were genuine and authentic; that he deeply cared about his friends and always made time for conversation. He was especially proud of the team he assembled and managed at Burwell Oil Service, and he took pride in mentoring many younger men and women in their careers, just as many influential people had done for him. As a boss, employees, including his sons, found him demanding and intense but always honest and fair. His greatest legacy was his family, and he earned the respect, love and admiration of his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His was an extraordinary life, and the confidence, courage and conviction with which he lived it has and will continue to inspire everyone he touched.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Fricke-Calvert-Schrader Funeral Home, Lincoln.
The family requests memorials be sent to Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln to assist individuals and families affected by the COIVID 19 pandemic. Please send to: ALMH, Attn: Dolan Dalpoas, CEO, 200 Stahlhut Drive, Lincoln, IL 62656.
Posted online on November 30, 2020