Heartbroken vet finds ‘a place called home’

Eugene Ware remembers the 1951 World Series like it was yesterday. He was a 7-year-old living in New Jersey and rooted for the New York Giants, if only because they were underdogs against the powerhouse Yankees, who won the Series in six games.

“I thought the Giants came to San Francisco because of me,” Ware said.Ware’s father had a tough time finding work and moved the family to Northern California a couple of years later, but young Eugene remained a Giants fan. Then came 1958, the year his team moved west.

Now 69, Ware follows all the major Bay Area sports teams on a $158 television in his tiny studio at the Casa De Vallejo, an affordable senior housing complex in Vallejo that has been home since September. His first month’s rent and deposit was paid by the Chronicle Season ofSharing Fund.

For two years, Ware was homeless, a recovering substance abuser who suffered a minor stroke and remained heartbroken over losing his longtime love, Janet Pagni. The two were together 27 years, and her death two years ago at 53 is largely what drove him to the streets.

When his heartache and lack of stability took a toll on his health, Ware checked into the emergency room complaining of blurred vision, which the medical staff considered serious and likely a symptom of the stroke. He later entered a transitional care program and was paired with caseworkers at the Benicia Community Action Council who helped him with day-to-day needs and referred him to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.

The Season of Sharing Fund enabled Ware to move into his studio, which is 400 square feet, including a kitchenette, bathroom and Murphy bed. He has become mostly self-sufficient with the help of Social Security and minimum veteran benefits.

‘A nice room’

“It’s a nice room with a shower. I’m not used to stuff like that,” said Ware, whose furniture includes little more than a TV stand. “It gives you a positive feeling. You don’t feel like you’re going to get the bum’s rush or anything.”

A veteran who served four years in the U.S. Army in the ’60s, including training for the Special Forces, Ware has held a number of jobs over the past decades, including bartending, but found his life spiraling out of control after Pagni, with whom he lived in Napa, died of a heart attack.

“I was at loose ends after that,” said Ware, who moved from one cheap motel to another. “She was 16 years younger. It was a big shock for me. … I got out of kilter. I was tapped out. I just wandered around.”

He had always assumed Pagni would outlive him. “I figured I wasn’t gonna go much past 50.”

And now?

“Not bad, but my speech is not perfect,” said Ware, noting the effects of the stroke. He gets around with the help of a cane and said he hasn’t touched hard drugs in 20 years.

After losing Pagni, Ware made his way to the East Bay.

‘No Plan B’

“There was no Plan B,” said Ebbie Saguil, his caseworker at the Benicia community group. “He had (two brothers) in Washington, and it wasn’t conducive to travel and move from one place to another. It was a hard time getting his life together. It was an emotional issue he has overcome.”

Saguil has kept an eye on Ware, including driving him to Walmart to buy his television and picking him up from the local barbershop after Ware decided to shave his bushy gray beard.

“He wanted a permanent place and made a personal decision to get his life back together,” Saguil said. “Now he can go back to a place called home, and he’s doing well.”

Local sports

Though there are parts of his past he doesn’t wish to dwell on, Ware finds comfort reminiscing about his favorite local sports teams.

“I’ve been a 49er fan since they practiced at St. Mary’s,” he said, recalling the 1960s, when the 49ers trained in Moraga. “I went to games at Kezar. I remember (Jim) Plunkett went from the 49ers to Raiders, and all he did was win two Super Bowls.

“I followed the Warriors when they got rid of the high paychecks and Rick Barry got them the ’75 championship by beating Washington four straight.”

But Ware is most deep rooted in the Giants.

“I liked (Willie) McCovey. He hit line-drive home runs that were no higher than 6 feet off the ground,” said Ware, who began following the Giants inWillie Mays‘ rookie year. “Say Hey Kid, he’s my man. Always has been.”

John Shea is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jshea@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @JohnSheaHey

 The original article can be found here.