‘Ambassador of the Hamm Building’ suffers strokes

On my list of people I want to interview someday sits Gene Wiley, the more-than-affable shoeshine man at St. Paul’s Hamm Building.

I may have missed my chance.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Wiley has suffered “a series of strokes” that’s left him hospitalized.

For 13 years, Wiley has been the unofficial ambassador in the building.

“He is a big part of the building, and a big part of everybody’s daily life,” Sean O’Bryne, the owner of Great Waters Brewing Company tells the paper. He snuck into the hospital to see him recently. “Every morning he is always in a good mood, just always smiling and giggling and laughing and the whole bit. Every single day, that’s how he would greet people. It’s tough now that he’s in the hospital, how quiet it is in the hallway. … The whole demeanor has changed. That happy vibe just isn’t here.”

As big a part of daily life as Wiley has been, we didn’t know a lot about him. He’s a former auto mechanic. He lives alone in a St. Paul apartment. He’s 71 years old. He has six kids.

“He likes the blues, baseball, cooking, a bottle of beer now and again and doing his Word Find Puzzles,” according to a GoFundMe page set up by his friends in the Hamm Building.

“He would do anything to help out a friend and now we want to pay it forward. We want to make sure his apartment and little bird is taken care of while he is in the hospital and the possibility of a nursing home for rehabilitation.”

And St. Paul seems even emptier without him.