The Daily Iowan

Local Uptown Bill’s staple starts Friday afternoon chess group


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Ed Gaines sat in his electric wheelchair, fresh from a chess victory, and crooned a couple of his favorite songs.

"Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen," he warbled, smiling a big infectious smile.

Gaines, who has had cerebral palsy since birth, started a Friday afternoon chess group earlier this year at Uptown Bill’s Coffee House, where the 63-year-old works.

"I love it because it helps me to be patient and helps me to understand better," he said.

The chess aficionado began playing when he was 8 years old. He later joined the U.S. Chess Federation, became a Class D player, and rose through the ranks to become almost a Class B player. Gaines competes in tournaments in Iowa City and has also participated in several national chess opens in Chicago and Las Vegas.

"Ed will always come out and say something, like ‘Who am I going to crush today?’ " said Tom Gilsenan, the director of Uptown Bill’s who has known Gaines for 13 years.

Gaines said he wanted to start the Friday afternoon chess group to keep busy.

"I get bored easy," he said with a laugh.

In addition to the chess group and running errands for Uptown Bill’s, Gaines runs his own graphic-design business, creating posters and business cards.

"I like to do it to help people," he said. "I don’t care about making money on that."

The entrepreneur described himself as easygoing, outgoing, and funny, but sometimes he faces challenges in his life because of his cerebral palsy.

"People think that I cannot do this and I cannot do that, but I know I can do it," he said. "I’m also trying to help people understand me, my speech especially."

Gilsenan and Gaines used to speak with social-work classes at the University of Iowa, and Gilsenan said one of the issues that would come up was people talking over the top of Gaines’s head, almost as if he wasn’t there.

"Sometimes, we’ll be having a conversation, and Ed will be sitting in his chair and say, ‘Hello, I’m sitting here too,’ " said Gilsenan.

Gretchen Gentsch, Gaines’s roommate, said despite these obstacles, Gaines maintains a positive outlook.

"Ed is a man who really faces challenges well," she said. "He is just always good-natured, always supportive, even when he’s not feeling well, and always holding up his end of the bargain, which is always making us smile."

Gaines was in the hospital a few weeks ago for ill health, and Gentsch said when he returned home, the change in the atmosphere was noticeable.

"People looked at me and said, ‘You’re smiling again,’ and I said, ‘Well the sunshine’s back in the house,’ " she said. "Ed will get up every morning, and he’ll sing to you — he’s just got joy in him, that’s all there is to it."

Gaines said he never lets his disability get the better of him.

"I’ve had cerebral palsy since I was 3 days old, but I never quit," he said. "I’m still here."