STEUBENVILLE - Tony Gentile is being remembered as a community leader who quietly encouraged others and was always ready to assist anyone in need, often before they even asked for help.
The 91-year-old Gentile, the last of the coal family patriarchs who embraced the community, providing support for local businesses and higher education institutions, died Sunday.
"Dad's passion was always about helping others. He taught us to set examples for others and to always treat everyone fairly and equally no matter who they were. He would meet United States representatives or senators and governors and he treated them the same as everyone else he met," related his son, Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile.
"He was a very humble man. He did so much for others that he never wanted credit for. I have heard so many stories during the past several days from people he helped before they ever said anything about needing help," added Tom Gentile.
Tony Gentile was born in Fontecchio, Italy, in 1920 and immigrated to the United States when he was just 8 years old.
"The house I own in Italy is in a neighboring town. So when I visited Italy I would take photographs of his home town and bring them back to him. My one regret is I didn't know Tony when he was younger. I wanted to take him back to Italy for a visit, but his health was an issue," explained Todd Piergallini.
"We would have conversations in Italian that he enjoyed. And he was a very gracious member of the Italian-American Culture Club. He will be greatly missed by our members and the community," stated Piergallini.
Gentile interrupted his college education to serve as a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and was assigned to be a tank commander under Gen. George Patton.
Gentile would be wounded twice during the war and later served as a military governor in Germany.
The Rev. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR, of the Franciscan University of Steubenville joined the Gentile family for Christmas for the past 18 years where he listened to Gentile's stories from the war.
"He was a member of the greatest generation who told those stories as much for himself as for others. He truly saw terrible things during his service," Cavanaugh said.
"Tony was a man of integrity and respect. He had absolute devotion to his family. Tony was a storehouse of knowledge and wisdom and he didn't hesitate to share it with you. At the same time, he preferred to help people and organizations, but wanted to stay in the shadows. He would actually be embarrassed by a newspaper article about himself. He was old-school and believed you should help others," said Cavanaugh.
"I know Tony always regretted not getting a college degree. He was attending Youngstown State University when the war started. We gave him an honorary doctorate degree, but Tony was always seeking to better his education and to learn more," Cavanaugh noted.
"I will miss those Christmas dinners with Gentile. Every visitor there was treated like a member of his family," added Cavanaugh.
The Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, vice president of community relations at the university, described Gentile, "as someone who truly lived his Christian faith. He truly left an indelible mark on this university through his support and generosity."
After his military service, Gentile returned to Jefferson County and entered into business, first as co-owner of the Pike Inn Restaurant in Bloomingdale.
He became involved in the coal mining business in 1952, and, after holding various positions at several coal companies, became chairman of the board of the Ohio River Collieries Co., as well as president of Bannock Coal Co.
He served as a quiet mentor for many young local business leaders.
That sentiment was shared by Chris Irvin of Irvin Insurance Services of Wintersville, who received a letter from Gentile when he started his business in 1998.
"I felt like I had received a letter from the president of the United States. He passed on his personal code for success in business that included determination, dedication, honor, humility and morality. I have kept that letter on my desk ever since. That letter expressed what Mr. Gentile was all about. He was someone we should all aspire to be in life and business, "said Irvin.
"When Tom Birney and I took over M&M True Value Hardware, Tony would stop in to shop here and to encourage. We were two young guys starting out on our own, and he would quietly encourage us and offer suggestions and support," related Scott Campbell, co-owner of the store.
"He never bragged about his many accomplishments. He was always very humble about all that he did. I will always remember Tony as being happy and always in a good mood. There was never any doubt about his leadership in the community. When Tony Gentile spoke, everyone listened. He was all about encouragement and education," Campbell added.
"I also worked with Tony at the Jefferson Community College Foundation that he helped start. He was a quiet leader in the community who believed everyone should obtain an education," Campbell remarked.
"And when he came into our store, you would soon hear Italian songs. Tony loved to sing his songs and share them with others," Campbell recalled.
Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, said she enjoyed singing with Gentile even though she didn't know the Italian words.
"I was always a second behind him," Meeks laughed. "He was always trying to teach me Italian but it never took."
"Patricia Fletcher and I visited Tony about a week before he passed. I had never seen him when he wasn't impeccably dressed. But by the time we left Tony was singing Italian songs and had us trying to sing with him. The glass was always half full with Tony. He was that type of man," Meeks stated.
"I remember telling our 2004 graduates the three 'D' words and three 'H' words Tony Gentile told me about. Those were drive, dedication and determination as well as honesty, honor and humility. Thank you, Tony Gentile for your lessons of wisdom and encouragement," Meeks said.