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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Teacher was instrumental in program for homeless

Gene B. Williams, 78, a retired Toledo elementary teacher who was active in the founding of an organization that assists homeless families, died of an apparent heart attack in her Sylvania Township home Wednesday.

Her husband of 56 years, Charles "Chuck" Williams, said his wife had recently returned home after spending seven weeks in a nursing home for heart disease.

Mrs. Williams taught in Toledo Public Schools for 15 years, beginning in 1985.

The family moved to the Toledo area that year when Mr. Williams became a professor of theater at the University of Toledo. Mrs. Williams began teaching as a substitute at Pickett Elementary and retired as a full-time teacher from Navarre Elementary.

Before the move to Toledo, Mrs. Williams had taught in Fort Worth, Mountain View, Calif., and St. Louis.

"She loved it [teaching]," Mr. Williams explained. "She was predominantly a lower elementary grades teacher, mostly first grade."

Mrs. Williams was an active member of Collingwood Presbyterian Church, which in the early 1990s was the seminal force behind the founding of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Metro Toledo, an organization dedicated to providing food and shelter for homeless families.

Mrs. Williams was "very influential" in the founding of the group, which was called IHN, her husband said.

Since 2006, the organization has been known as Family Promise of Northwest Ohio, with more than 30 member churches. It provides shelter, meals, and other assistance to homeless families.

Mrs. Williams was a native of Safford, Ariz. She and her husband met in Fort Worth when they were both students at Texas Christian University.

In retirement, Mrs. Williams stayed busy.

She was active in Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Ohio, the Blair Museum of Lithophanes at Toledo Botanical Garden, Family Promise, and was an emeritus docent at the Toledo Museum of Art.

She also read a lot and enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren.

Her husband described her as a someone who enjoyed being around others - "I always kidded her that she was the only person I knew who could talk to a door and make it answer."

Surviving are her husband, Chuck; daughters, Sloan, Marcia, and Dana, and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Collingwood Presbyterian Church, 2103 Collingwood Blvd. The body will be at the Walker Funeral Home, 5155 West Sylvania Ave., Saturday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m.

The family requests tributes to the church, Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity, or the Blair Museum of Lithophanes at the Toledo Botanical Garden.

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