Joseph J. Gentile, a successful auto salesman for 50 years, was a major supporter of Loyola University Chicago, where the athletic center bears his name.
“He would help anybody at any class in life,” said his wife, Carol. “If someone wanted to get their kid into St. Ignatius (College Prep) or Loyola, he’d see what he could do. If someone was raising money for something, he was there.”
For years, Mr. Gentile sponsored TV and radio broadcasts of Loyola’s basketball games. His $3.5 million donation covered almost half the cost of the school’s basketball arena, which opened in 1996 as the Joseph J. Gentile Center.
Mr. Gentile, 87, died of natural causes on Monday, Oct. 10, in palliative care in Hinsdale, his wife said. He was a longtime resident of the western suburbs.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Gentile grew up around St. Ignatius on the Near West Side. He liked to tell people that his father, a barber, refused to buy him a bicycle until he was 20, but worked his whole life to pay for his son’s education.
Mr. Gentile graduated from St. Ignatius and then attended the University of Notre Dame for a year before joining the Navy, where he served in the South Pacific during World War II, his wife said.
Returning from the war, Mr. Gentile received a degree in psychology from Loyola in 1948. He taught for a semester at the university, but a brief stint filling in at an auto dealership convinced him he could be successful selling cars, his wife said.
“He got the bug,” she said. “His father was ready to kill him when he found out. He wanted him to choose a different career.”
Mr. Gentile went on to enjoy a career in auto sales that spanned more than 50 years, first selling Fords and then opening a Buick dealership in Oak Park.
In 1994, Mr. Gentile purchased Elmhurst radio station WKDC-AM and renamed it WJJG-AM, based on his initials. He initially purchased the station to help with his dealership but soon found that he liked being on the air.
“He had it as a hobby, but it soon became a venue to do charitable things,” his wife said.
Mr. Gentile opened new studios for the station in Berkeley and recently handed over the general manager’s job to Chicago radio veteran Matt DuBiel, who recently visited him with some Italian ice.
“He said, ‘You know, you can’t conquer the world,’” DuBiel recounted. “And then he lit up with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, ‘But you can have a lot of fun.’”