Throughout his life, Gene Kain has done nothing but earn respect.
From winning a state wrestling title at Haddonfield Memorial High School to becoming mayor of the small community he grew up in to climbing mountains to bike riding in the mountains of France to competing in marathons and triathlons to teaching and coaching to running a prosperous funeral business to raising two successful children with his wife, Myra, Kain draws admiration.
Maybe his secret for getting so much respect is the 63-year-old also gives back respect.
Kain paid his family members the highest compliment and showed his respect for them by learning to play the violin in their honor.
“My aunt Ruth Kain Palmer and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the musicians,” Kain said recently. “My aunt and cousins came to every wrestling match in high school and supported me in anything I have ever done. I thought as a surprise I should attempt something musical for my aunt and her family.”
So Kain practiced for a year with a coach — Rob Bradshaw. Then he put on a surprise Christmas concert for them in 2008.
“My cousin Bill Kain’s children, Lisa Marcelli and Brian Kain, led the pack of musicians in that next generation,” Kain said. “I figured they were the perfect people to play for.”
Kain played for 15 family members at the inaugural concert at the store Violins By Mitchell on Kings Highway in Haddonfield. No one knew Kain would play. His cousin Bill Kain just told the family “they would be sorry if they missed it.”
“When the concert was over, everyone was in tears,” said Bill Kain, 62, who lives in Cherry Hill . “It was absolutely remarkable. When Gene was playing the instrument, it was like anything else, his jaw was set and he had that look in his eye and he was determined to go through it and do it the best he could.”
“I was more nervous than any wrestling match,” Gene Kain said.
Kain finished second in the state in wrestling as a sophomore and won the gold medal as a junior at 106 pounds in 1964. Although as a senior he lost in regional finals, Kain remains the last state champion wrestler from Haddonfield High.
Mitch Spector, the owner of Violins By Mitchell, said he feels Kain’s determination as a wrestler helped him learn the violin.
“There is no question the two meet in the middle,” Spector said. “The tenacity of an athlete helps to learn something in a different realm.”
Spector said some adults taking violin lessons for the first time give up after a half dozen sessions.
“Some have the tenacity like Gene,” Spector said. “He wasn’t going to let it beat him.”
Kain went on to wrestle at Gettysburg College , where he was a physical education major. He taught health and physical education at Haddonfield and coached wrestling, cross country and track for the Bulldawgs from 1969 to 1974.
Kain went to funeral service school in 1974 and five years later he bought a funeral home in Haddonfield. In 2001, he bought a second funeral home in town and merged them together to form Kain-Murphy Funeral Services.
Kain was the medical investigator at the Camden County Medical Examiner’s Office from 1996 to 2004 and the mayor of Haddonfield from 1997 to 2001.
While doing all this, Kain ran in 25 marathons and between 25 and 30 triathlons of various distances.
And Kain and his wife of 40 years raised successful children. Mike, who played football at Haddonfield and Gettysburg , is an orthopedic surgeon in Boston . Rachel, a diver at Haddonfield and Cornell, works for IMG Consulting in Cleveland .
“My wife put out the challenge two years ago,” Kain said about playing the violin.
Myra gave him a violin and six lessons for Christmas in 2008.
Kain played a medley of six Christmas songs for his stunned relatives.
“They couldn’t believe it,” Kain said laughing.
Kain’s family includes his sister Pat, who is the founder and head of the expository writing department at Johns Hopkins University . His brother Bob built the tennis division and eventually became the CEO of IMG and is now retired. His brother Steve is an immigration attorney in Fort Lauderdale , Fla.
“The concert wasn’t pretty, but it was a lot of fun,” Kain said.
Spector, however, said Kain is “really better than he thinks he is.”
And Kain isn’t done playing.
“I am going to do something again,” Kain said. “Sooner or later I knew I would get outed. I had been hiding it. I didn’t want people to make me play until now.”