BELOIT - Prominent African American community member and founding publisher of The Chronicle newspaper in Beloit, Eugene Relerford, will be remembered for his dedication to promoting minorities in Beloit and for his deep love of family.
Eugene Relerford passed away last week, and on Saturday, family members and friends gathered to share memories of Eugene - affectionately known as 'Brother D' to relatives.
Eugene Relerford came to Beloit as a baby from Arkansas, and was one of eight siblings, including five sisters, all of whom say he was always willing to help them out over the years. He graduated from Beloit Catholic High School before attending the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. He was also a member of the Beloit NAACP chapter, family added.
In 1979, Eugene Relerford set out on a goal of starting a newspaper highlighting stories of Beloit's African American community - founding The Chronicle in 1981 as a "one man operation and wrecking crew," family said.
One of Eugene Relerford's daughters, Sondra D. Verser, said she even remembers him developing photographs in a makeshift dark room in the family's home bathroom. Verser said Eugene Relerford always looked to weave a strong sense of togetherness into her relationship with her siblings.
Beloit City Councilor Kevin Leavy said he remembered seeing Eugene Relerford always delivering editions of the Chronicle.
"He will truly be missed and was a great asset to the city," Leavy said.
The Chronicle served local minority communities in southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois since its founding, according to its website. The Chronicle currently is not publishing, family said, as relatives weigh future options for what's next with the community newspaper.
"He wanted to be the voice for Beloit's African American Community," nephew Keith Pleasant said. "He focused on youth development and youth engagement. He wanted to share the positive stories about young people."
Eugene never stopped working, family said, recalling his extreme drive and work ethic.
"He took it upon himself to bring people together," sister Barbara Cross said. "He did so much for the community and he is going to be dearly missed. We need more black supportive people in our community and if we don't have it, the younger generation falls behind because they don't have mentors or anyone to turn to. He tried to be there for everyone."
In the 80s, Eugene Relerford managed two nightclubs in Beloit and Milwaukee. For sister Alice Mosley, she said that's when she knew her brother had a way of connecting with anyone.
"I would be at the door collecting money for him and I just remember him running around everywhere," Mosley said.
Sister Doris Pleasant said he even drove her to the hospital while she was about to give birth to her first daughter.
"It was so foggy and I couldn't drive, so I called Eugene. When Tiffany was born, he drove me crazy by playing a joke on me saying my baby was not in the nursery," Doris Pleasant said with a smile.
His sense of humor always kept you on your toes, sister Jackie Butts said.
"We were always getting into it because he was kind of devilish and there was a time I made chocolate pudding and I chased him around the house after he stuck his finger in it," Butts said.
To nephew Tamaris Relerford, his uncle was a strong role model in his life, especially as a young child, something his mother, Bernita Bolton, Eugene Relerford's youngest sister, echoed.
"He let a mark on everyone he met," Tamaris Relerford said. "I felt like I had to represent that name and live up to that standard. He was so ambitious and his drive as an outgoing person is what I will remember the most about him."
"He was always there for us and I will never forget it," Bolton said.
When the oldest brother James Relerford passed away, younger brother Ernie Relerford said Eugene Relerford stepped up in a big way to help keep his family together.
"I will always be proud to be his little brother, for the person he was to me and our family and for accomplishments to the larger community, Ernie Relerford said.
Beloit City Council President Regina Dunkin said Eugene's legacy will live on in Beloit.
"He made a powerful impact and played a huge role in recognizing the minority community, especially African Americans," Dunkin said. "His great legacy will serve as an inspiration for people of color for years to come."
Verser said the outpouring of support from community members has helped them navigate a challenging time.
"I was out with my sisters and brother preparing arrangements, and people just came up to us and hugged us," Verser said. "It was amazing to see that."